Tag Archives: Yohandry Orozco

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

farinezsosa

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

Deportivo Táchira Defeat Trujillanos to be Crowned the 2014/15 Champions of Venezuela

2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final Second Leg

Sunday 17 May 2015 – Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira State

Deportivo Táchira 1-0 Trujillanos (Deportivo Táchira win 1-0 on aggregate)

Video Highlights of Deportivo Táchira 1-0 Trujillanos, 2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final Second Leg, 17 May 2015 (Video courtesy of Highlights Venezuela)

Veteran Rojas Wins for Deportivo Táchira their Eighth Venezuelan League Championship 

In front of a domestic season-high attendance of 37,365, 37-year-old Jorge Rojas converted a penalty with 15 minutes left on the clock, thus claiming the 2014/15 Venezuelan championship for Deportivo Táchira – their eighth in their 41-year history.

Though they certainly rode their luck at times and may be considering deifying the woodwork that dramatically saved them at the death, they did edge proceedings here, at times dominating the play – no more so than in the first half.

Indeed, Trujillanos did not really seem in the game to begin with, as most of the running was made by Táchira, the highest-scoring team in the league who were welcoming back to their line-up Rojas and top-scorer Gelmin Rivas. Just three minutes in, centre-back Wilker Ángel found himself in acres of space just outside the area, where he received a cross-field pass from Yohandry Orozco but, perhaps a bit too casually, struck the ball a few yards over. While the hosts – and particularly Orozco – continued to threaten, with the winger later striking a shot that went just a couple of yards wide, it was Rivas who had the next real chance of significance. Indeed, after 26 minutes, he gained some space just inside the area and shot low, which goalkeeper Leandro Díaz did well to stop and, following a somewhat fortuitous ricochet, smother away from attackers looking to pounce.

However, despite being on the receiving end of this early pressure, it was actually Trujillanos who had the best opportunity to score in the half. Out of the blue, a cross came in from the right and Alfredo Padilla rose, unmarked and in space, but headed agonisingly wide of the far post. A gilt-edged chance, make no mistake, though by the time the final whistle was blown, it was not to be the only one that the visitors’ would regret not taking.

When the first period was brought to an end, though fans had endured 135 minutes of goalless action in this tie, there was no question that this game was significantly more enthralling than the first leg in Valera. Indeed, while the roars of the large crowd – almost three times as high as last week’s attendance – as well as the decisive nature of the game certainly helped, there were also far more attempts created.

The first of note in the second half came after 57 minutes, when Orozco’s corner was met in space by the incoming Javier López but, despite his advantageous position, he was to head a couple of yards wide. Although Orozco also attempted a decent half-volley a few minutes later, the home side were soon to wonder if they were going to be made to rue their misses as, somewhat surprisingly, Trujillanos grew into the game and rattled Táchira with their forward forays. Firstly, in the 64th minute on a counter-attack, Padilla found himself in plenty of space roaming infield from the right flank yet, though he had the option to play in a team-mate or have a shot at goal, he was evidently caught in two minds as he wasted the opportunity by weakly chipping the ball into the grateful hands of goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind. Just a couple of minutes later, Liebeskind was to be properly tested as Colombian Jarol Herrera suddenly struck a shot from over 25 yards that caused a spectacular, acrobatic save from the goalkeeper. However, drowning out the applause for this stop were the murmurs and cries of discontent from the home fans who were beginning to sense they may just lose the game that they were heavy favourites to win.

Although there was a response of sorts as, up the other end, promising youngster Carlos Cermeño hit a decent shot just a yard or two over from 25 yards, Trujillanos were to continue to threaten up until the final whistle. Indeed, in the 72nd minute, just before the match turned against them, another 20-plus-yard effort was parried out low by Liebeskind. Soon afterwards though, Táchira made their breakthrough as star playmaker César González was upended in the area and his side were awarded a penalty. Jorge Rojas, with over 80 international caps and with a high success rate from the spot since his January move from Metropolitanos, was never likely to crumble under the pressure and thus, having given Díaz the eyes, he rolled the ball into the back of the net.

To the surprise of no-one who has watched Táchira this season, manager Daniel Farías’ response to his side taking the lead was a cautious one, making a defensive substitution, removing arguably his leading attacking threat, Orozco. Subsequently, the vistors had the better of the closing stages and, with just two minutes remaining, came breathtakingly close to scoring. A blocked Trujillanos free-kick was to ricochet to a team-mate who shot low from just outside the area, evading Liebeskind’s dive, rebounding off the post to Luiryi Erazo whose close-range shot remarkably hit the opposite post, despite having virtually an open goal to aim at. Two times the woodwork saved the hosts, though the chaos in the area did not stop there as there was a scramble for the ball which saw two further shots blocked by the defence, before it was cleared.

After this miss, the home fans no doubt sensed it was destined to be their year and when the whistle blew, many ran onto the field, delaying the lifting of the trophy for some time afterwards. Ultimately, though this outcome was predicted even if it did not quite follow the anticipated script, Táchira are worthy champions, having put in a remarkable performance to snatch the Torneo Clausura at the death. Both they and Torneo Apertura winners Trujillanos will thus qualify directly for the 2016 Copa Libertadores group stage, with Caracas FC – who ranked highest in the Aggregate Table – having to go through the playoff route.

Serie Pre-Sudamericana

Results from the first legs of the final games on this mini post-season tournament (also played on 17 May):

Mineros de Guayana 2-3 Zamora

Carabobo 1-0 Deportivo Lara

The second legs will be played on 20 May and the winners will both gain entry to the 2015 Copa Sudamericana, which begins later in the year. Check back to this article for updates on these ties.

UPDATE

Results of the decisive second legs played on 20 May:

Zamora 3-2 Mineros de Guayana (Zamora won 6-4 on aggregate)

Deportivo Lara 1-0 Carabobo (1-1 on aggregate; Carabobo won 3-1 on penalties)

Consequently, Zamora and Carabobo will join Deportivo La Guaira and Deportivo Anzoátegui in the 2015 Copa Sudamericana, which will commence in August.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Trujillanos 0-0 Deportivo Táchira – 2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final First Leg (10 May 2015) (Plus Serie Pre-Sudamericana Updates & the Aquiles Ocanto incident)

2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final First Leg

Sunday 10 May 2015 – Estadio José Alberto Pérez, Valera, Trujillo State

Trujillanos 0-0 Deportivo Táchira

Video Highlights of Trujillanos 0-0 Deportivo Táchira, 2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final First Leg, 10 May 2015 (courtesy of Youtube account Highlights Venezuela)

Bore Draw At Least Ensures a Competitive Venezuelan Finale 

Whether it was due to the 33 degrees heat, the attacking limitations of the hosts and/or the defensive approach of the visitors, Trujillanos and Táchira served up a forgettable encounter unbefitting of this showpiece occasion.

Pre-game, there were fears that the home side would expose themselves as being out of their depth, having endured a considerable fall from grace since winning the Torneo Apertura in December, losing some key players as they limped to a 11th-placed finish in the Clausura. However, though they failed to make a breakthrough in this game, they did dominate the majority of play, with the Clausura-winning visitors having largely been set up to contain and frustrate them. As Táchira possess the best attack in the league (64 goals in their 34 games this season), this was a somewhat unanticipated approach and one that could not be said to have been forced upon manager Daniel Farías. Indeed, his side may have had three first-team regulars out suspended following an accumulation of yellow cards – Gerzon Chacón, Wilker Ángel and Jorge Rojas – but only the latter of these plays in a forward position. Instead, the 33-year-old boss was very much the architect of his side’s reserved tactics, even benching 20-goal top-scorer Gelmin Rivas. Seemingly, this move was to help facilitate counter-attacks for the more mobile Yohandry Orozco and José Alí Meza to run onto and spearhead – something that never really occurred.

Thus, Trujillanos were to enjoy more of the ball in opposition territory though, to give Farías credit, the Táchira rearguard was largely successful in repeatedly blocking off key passes and not allowing their opponents many clear opportunities. Arguably the best chance Los Guerreros de la Montaña were to have was their first of note, which came after just seven minutes. Alfredo Padilla’s cross from the right was met by Sergio Álvarez, who flicked on a header at the near post that the visitors’ goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind did well to block at close range. This was a rare instance of one of Padilla’s many crosses in the game actually being connected with – had his side managed to keep ahold of strikers James Cabezas and Freddys Arrieta after the Apertura win, one wonders if Trujillanos would have had more joy from this mode of attack.

Up the other end, Táchira only really had two moments of note in this half yet as one was a low cross that evaded everyone and the other was a passing move that fell apart before a shot could even be struck, one would not wish to overstate the threat of these. Indeed, the only other chance of significance in the opening period came from Trujillanos in stoppage-time as Maurice Cova curled a fine free-kick from 25 yards that Liebeskind did well to tip over for a corner.

Regarding the second-half, while a lack of information provided on this period in a match report is often symptomatic of the writer having to make sacrifices in order to get an on-the-whistle article finished on time, readers can be assured that in this case it is simply because little of note occurred. Indeed, to succinctly summarise: Trujillanos dominated but continued to be thwarted in the final third, having even fewer opportunities than in the first half and Táchira barely mustered an attack worth mentioning, with Rivas’ introduction 20 minutes from time predictably changing nothing. Nevertheless, whether the away fans were pleased with their team’s tactical display, celebrating the Clausura title win or were simply amusing themselves, they were to see out the game by repeatedly jumping up and down while emitting something approaching euphoria

Hopefully, both sets of players will take some of this spirit with them into the decisive leg in San Cristóbal next weekend as, if there is anything positive to say about this match, it is that both teams will still feel that they have a strong chance of claiming the championship. Indeed, though Táchira will feel happier with this result and will go into the final game as strong favourites with a more attacking approach, the scoreline ensures that Trujillanos still retain some hope of causing what would be considered an upset.

To find out how the finale to the Venezuelan season pans out, keep checking back here and, if you are not already, please follow the Twitter account @DarrenSpherical.

Serie Pre-Sudamericana

Starting at the same time as the Gran Final, there is also a post-season tournament to determine the two remaining Venezuelan entrants into the 2015 Copa Sudamericana. Eight teams are participating and following the next round, all will have been decided. For more information on how the competition works, check out the bottom of this article, but in the meantime, here are the results of the first legs of the first round of games (also played on 10 May):

Tucanes de Amazonas 0-0 Mineros de Guayana

Estudiantes de Mérida 1-2 Zamora

Carabobo 1-0 Aragua

Atlético Venezuela 1-0 Deportivo Lara

UPDATE:

On Wednesday 13 May, the second legs of these games were played. Here are the results:

Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Tucanes de Amazonas (Mineros de Guayana won 3-0 on aggregate)

Zamora 4-2 Estudiantes de Mérida (Zamora won 6-3 on aggregate)

Aragua 0-0 Carabobo (Carabobo won 1-0 on aggregate)

Deportivo Lara 2-0 Atlético Venezuela (Deportivo Lara won 2-1 on aggregate)

Consequently, the two Copa Sudamericana places will be decided in two separate games over two legs played on 17 and 20 May. Mineros de Guayana will face Zamora and Carabobo will play against Deportivo Lara.

Carabobo’s Aquiles Ocanto Savagely Attacked on Pitch By Rival Fan

Before signing off, one feels obliged to briefly mention a rather unsavoury incident that occurred after the game between Aragua and Carabobo – two rival teams from neighbouring states. Aquiles Ocanto, the visitors’ top scorer in the league and whose goal in the first leg ultimately decided this tie, was the victim of a vicious assault by a fan after the game. Indeed, Ocanto was being interviewed live by a TeleAragua presenter on the pitch when suddenly an intruder ran up behind him and jumped, knees first, into the player’s back, savagely knocking him to the ground.

Video of Pitch Invader’s Assault of Aquiles Ocanto after Aragua 0-0 Carabobo, Serie Pre-Sudamericana (Venezuela), 13 May 2015 (courtesy of TeleAragua).

The offender has since allegedly been identified online and Ocanto, who made his international debut against Honduras in February, is reportedly fine with no serious injuries. Unsurprisingly this incident has made the news far outside of Venezuela’s borders with, amongst others, the websites of The Guardian and The Metro – two British publications – picking up the story. While this was certainly newsworthy, it is a pity that leagues off the radar of the average European fan only tend to be of interest to editors and journalists when something disgraceful or bizarre that has little to do with football occurs. Such is the way of the world. Nevertheless, in a humble attempt to go some way towards rectifying this, it is politely recommended that any readers who came to this website off the back of this story check out how the final day of the Venezuelan Torneo Clausura ended – who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Review of Venezuela’s 2015 Torneo Clausura Title Race

The second part of Venezuela’s Liga Movistar recently came to a close as the 2015 Torneo Clausura was won in the most dramatic of circumstances by Deportivo Táchira. What follows is a look back at their campaign as well as that of their rivals Caracas and what is still left to play for…

Video Highlights of Caracas FC 2-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Venezuelan Torneo Clausura, 3 May 2015 (Video courtesy of Highlights Venezuela)

Deportivo Táchira Break Caracas Hearts at the Death

In a refreshing instance of a highly-anticipated match living up to its billing, the Clausura-deciding clásico del fútbol venezolano ended with Táchira snatching a sensational title win on the final day away to Caracas in the fourth and final minute of stoppage-time.

Puncturing the atmosphere and permanently scarring the home fans in the capital, Wilker Ángel’s header at the death gave the game its final twist, making it 2-2 and denying Caracas the win they needed to lift the Clausura trophy. It was all too much for the hosts to accept. They had been elated to take the lead for the first time as the game was entering its closing stages in the 80th minute, reversing the scoreline at long last, having initially gone behind with less than 15 minutes on the clock. Understandably, stunned silence mixed with sadness was the only way for their fans to respond an outcome that will be difficult to stomach for some time yet. To read more detail about this unforgettable match, click here.

As with the Apertura, the relatively short duration of the 17-game Clausura tournament often allows for much jostling for the top spot and this year was no different, as at times at least a handful of teams appeared to be in the running to claim the crown. However, though the likes of Zamora and Deportivo Anzoátegui certainly put in strong performances (with the former only ruled out of the title picture on the penultimate weekend), the race ultimately came down to the two most decorated teams in Venezuelan football history. Thus, what follows in this article is a look back at the impressive title-winning campaign of Táchira, followed by an overview of the respectable showing of Los Rojos del Ávila and then ending with a succinct round-up of what else is left to play for until the season is officially brought to a close.

deportivotachira

Deportivo Táchira
2015 Torneo Clausura Winners

Although there was more than a hint of good fortune to Táchira’s last-gasp triumph, there can be no doubting that overall, they earned this Clausura victory. Indeed, being alone amongst the three Venezuelan Copa Libertadores teams in having to go through a two-legged play-off tie to earn their group stage spot, they were actually to play more competitive games than any other top-flight side since the turn of the year – eight more than most, including Caracas. Their participation in the continent’s premier competition also led to the inconvenient rearrangement of many domestic fixtures, with games often being played in rapid succession to help accommodate Libertadores matches as well as the team’s preparation for them. For example, from the end of January to the beginning of March, they went five weeks without a league fixture. For the majority of the Clausura, such alterations caused Los Aurinegros to regularly find themselves two to three games behind the other pace-makers and thus, barring a fleeting early spell in January at the top, it was not until they went into the decisive last-day clásico that they were to occupy pole position. The manner in which Táchira were to stay within touching distance of their rivals and ultimately take advantage of their games in hand is worthy of significant praise and speaks volumes of the character and quality that exists within their ranks. The team manager, the youthful Daniel Farías, deserves much credit for his role at the helm and a rather bright future for him on the touchline may well be on the cards. Yet, back in early January, things seemed altogether more bleak for the 33 year old.

Indeed, Táchira, the side with the all-time second-highest number of championships (seven to Caracas’ eleven), have high ambitions every season and midway through this one, Farías had been falling well short of such expectations. Much discontent was being voiced in San Cristóbal following an Apertura in which, having been top of the table, they were to fail to win in their final eight games, picking up just three additional points and finishing a woeful 11th. When they opened up the Clausura by throwing away a lead and ultimately losing to a stoppage-time goal against lowly Atlético Venezuela – one of several capital-based sides living very much in the shadow of Caracas FC – Farías’ days appeared to be numbered.

The subsequent game at home to Aragua, a decent side who finished just five points off top in the Apertura, certainly would not have been particularly appealing to a manager under pressure. However, perhaps benefiting from a lack of official crowd to spread tensions around Pueblo Nuevo (owing to trouble in the stands towards the end of the preceding campaign), Táchira impressively recorded their first win for over three months in a 3-1 victory. This sudden reversal of fortunes appeared to galvanise them as they were to follow this up with a 4-1 thumping at home against Llaneros de Guanare and a 3-1 victory away to Portuguesa; that they also briefly went top during this late-January period certainly did Farías little harm either. In these matches, experienced international César González impressed, as did new recruits such as Alan Liebeskind (who saved two penalties and was to save more in the following months) and the veteran Jorge Rojas (scorer of three consecutive penalties). One man in particular fans were delighted to see return to form was striker Gelmin Rivas who, after a goal-drought towards the end of the Apertura, rediscovered his shooting boots. Nevertheless, as two (Llaneros de Guanare and Portuguesa) of the three teams that these players excelled against in this period were to finish in the bottom two positions in the Aggregate Table, many maintained their scepticism regarding talk of a Táchira turnaround. However, following the club’s next two encounters, temporarily at least, critics were to be compelled to drop their reservations.

Indeed, following a 2-1 home victory and a 2-2 away draw against Paraguayans Cerro Porteño, Táchira became the first Venezuelan side in the current format (est. 2005) of the Copa Libertadores, to successfully negotiate the qualifying stage and progress to the group stage. With these games coinciding with the first two victories of the national team under new coach Noel Sanvicente since he took over in July 2014, much optimism was expressed regarding the footballing future of Venezuela.

This was not to last long. On the first day of the group stage, they were emphatically thrashed 5-0 at home by Argentine champions Racing. Subsequently, though they stole a 1-1 draw in their second game away to Peruvian champions Sporting Cristal, they followed this up by being on the receiving end of another thumping, this time 5-2 in Asunción against Guaraní. Things got little better during their campaign, as Farías as well as, on occasion, the team became targets of the boo-boys, with Táchira ultimately finishing with a dismal record of three defeats, three draws and no victories.

However, though on the continental stage they were floundering, domestically they were flourishing, albeit while playing catch-up to their rivals. Indeed, one particular highlight during this period was a mid-March 5-2 thrashing over fellow Libertadores qualifiers Mineros de Guayana in which Rivas found the net four times – remarkably, this came just a few days after their own 5-2 defeat in Paraguay. When their group stage commitments ended on 14 April following an unfortunate 3-2 reversal against Racing in Buenos Aires (during which they were leading 2-0 at one point), they could at least then focus on salvaging something significant from the season.

At this point, while they were just four points behind Caracas with two games in hand, Farías’ history of falling away at the end of the previous campaign, combined with the number of games to be played in a relatively short period as well as the quality of these upcoming opponents, counted against Táchira somewhat. Indeed, the remaining five matches they were to play over the final 16 days of the Clausura could scarcely have been tougher, rendering their ultimate accomplishment altogether more impressive. Displaying considerable stamina and character, they won the first four of these, starting with a 2-1 away victory against Deportivo La Guaira (who finished 7th, but were narrow runners-up in the Apertura, as well as winners of the Copa Venezuela in early December). They followed this up with three consecutive home wins watched by significantly more people than were showing up earlier in the campaign. Indeed, a mere 2,699 had attended the 5-2 Mineros mauling, yet with the title in their sights, 12,223 saw them defeat Deportivo Anzoátegui (who finished 4th) 2-1 on 22 April. Then, on the penultimate weekend of the Clausura, the overall champions of the last two seasons, Zamora, were finally knocked out of the race (and were to finish 3rd), courtesy of a 17-second Jorge Rojas goal in front of a season-high 22,367 attendance. Subsequently, just over 20,000 believers turned up for the 3-0 midweek victory against Deportivo Lara (finished 5th), the game which finally put them ahead of Caracas and thus in the driving seat for the Clausura-deciding clásico.

They travelled to the capital’s Estadio Olímpico de la UCV – which, exempting the conspicuous security arrangements that left at least one section empty, was virtually full to the brim – needing just a draw in what was easily one of the most eagerly anticipated regular season games in Venezuelan football history. As related earlier, while their early lead was ruled out and then, with ten minutes remaining, reversed, they were to snatch an equalising goal and the title with what was the last meaningful touch of the match. As stunning as this was to witness, statistics show that the last 15 minutes of matches are when Táchira are most deadly in front of goal and they had already won two games with stoppage-time goals – though even if Caracas were fully aware of this, it would not have made much difference.

Consequently, they attained the point they needed and pulled off a remarkable feat, winning the Torneo Clausura by finishing with 41 points, having won 13, drawn 2 and lost 2. While their defence certainly contributed to their achievement (conceding 17, the 5th lowest amount in the league), it was their attack that deserved the most plaudits, scoring 40 goals, placing them comfortably first in this department. Gelmin Rivas was the main man here, netting 13 times (adding to the 7 he scored in the Apertura), possibly having been buoyed by the attention he reportedly received from two top-tier Belgian sides just before the campaign got underway. Now 26 years of age, if he is keen on a move abroad, now would appear to be the most opportune time. As a natural marksman, finishing from close range either with his feet or, rather frequently, his head, he was often reliant on the crosses and through-balls of his team-mates, especially César González. The 32-year-old’s set-pieces were regular sources of goals and he even managed to chip in with an impressive haul of seven himself – form which earned him a recall to the international set-up in late March. Another prolific purveyor of opportunities was 24-year-old winger Yohandry Orozco, who also impressed sporadically in a few Libertadores matches. Although another move to a team of the calibre of Wolfsburg – where he spent a rather subdued spell between 2011-2013 – is certainly not on the cards, a move to a bigger side on the same continent does not seem out of question. José Miguel Reyes, a similar player who likes to roam down the wings as well as cut infield, also had a decent season, scoring five goals along the way. Lastly, 37-year-old Jorge Rojas certainly had a campaign to remember as, following his inter-season move from lowly Metropolitanos, he was to score seven league goals. His phenomenal strike in the first leg of the Libertadores play-off against Cerro Porteño will surely be recalled with affection for some time yet.

Of the remainder of the squad, while there were certainly some impressive performances, the player with the most chance of a move abroad in the upcoming future is surely the hero of the final day, Wilker Ángel. The 22-year-old made his international debut in November (and scored with the faintest of touches) and has been allegedly attracting interest from elsewhere in South America as well as Europe within the past year. However, as his primary function is to keep out goals rather than score them, one wonders whether his side’s porous showing in the Libertadores (15 conceded) has adversely affected his chances of a foreign move.

On a somewhat related note, one can not help but fear that the fine form Táchira showed in the Clausura will again fail to translate on the continental stage when they compete in next year’s Copa Libertadores. As well as holding on to their top players and the essential retention of manager Farías, some reinforcements will surely be needed by the time next February rolls around.

For the time being however, their focus will be on claiming the Venezuelan Liga Movistar championship outright. Having lost a few key players, their opponents in the Gran Final, Trujillanos, are a shadow of the side that won the Apertura in December, finishing 11th in the Clausura and so will be the underdogs going into this two-legged affair. The first game of this decisive tie will be the away fixture for Táchira in Valera on 10 May, with the reverse fixture on 17 May. Those unable to tune into these matches can expect reports on this website.

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Caracas FC
2015 Torneo Clausura Runners-up

So unfortunate were Los Rojos del Ávila to not be crowned Clausura champions, having sat in pole position for the majority of the second half of the campaign. Having put in a decent showing in the Apertura (finishing 3rd with 31 points) and topping the Aggregate Table with 70 points to Táchira’s 64, it is hard to envisage there being any severe repercussions for manager Eduard Saragó and his charges.

Indeed, Caracas began the Clausura well, taking 11 points from a possible opening 15. However, in the last of these games, a 0-0 draw away to Aragua on 8 February, their star playmaker and literal as well as figurative ‘number 10’, 22-year-old Rómulo Otero, had to be withdrawn due to injury. He did return briefly in the following month, making two substitute appearances before starting against Deportivo Anzoátegui on 18 March, though he lasted no more than 54 minutes before going off hurt, never to return. The absence of Otero, arguably the brightest Venezuelan prospect plying his trade in his homeland, certainly diminished their attacking options in the remainder of the Clausura, having a noticeable effect on how they appraoched the opposition goal as well as the amount of times they scored.

Indeed, from being the highest scorers in the Apertura with 33 goals, they were to finish in the Clausura with two other teams as joint-sixth in this department, netting just 23 times. In Otero’s absence, new recruits Diomar Díaz (a Venezuelan turfed out of New York Cosmos following Raúl’s arrival) and Argentine Fabián Bordagaray (who arrived from Greece, having had spells with San Lorenzo and River Plate, amongst others) can not be said to have risen to the plate, with only the latter managing to find the net (and just the once). Thus, with so few goals in the side, 10 of their 12 victories were to be achieved by a mere one-goal margin (with the other two being by two), with the majority of their attacks emanating from the flanks for someone in the centre – usually Edder Farías, who got 11 goals – to finish off.

To maintain such a high position with such forward-line deficiencies, they required a well-organised defence as well as a top goalkeeper, both of which they certainly possessed. Indeed, they conceded the lowest number of goals in the Clausura – 11 – and shot-stopper Alain Baroja, who during this campaign firmly established himself as the national team’s second choice, repeatedly saved them with a string of spectacular highlight-friendly saves.

Despite many doubts being expressed regarding their ability to mount a significant title challenge following Otero’s injury, Caracas’ unglamorous approach was largely effective. After they took over Zamora at the top of the table just after the midway point, they were to become the favourites for many as uncertainties remained regarding Táchira’s ability to make up the ground that had been lost due to their Libertadores encounters.

As we now know, such doubts were proven to be unfounded. The ‘fine margins’ managers and pundits alike often cite certainly came to the fore in the dying seconds at the Estadio Olímpico de la UCV on 3 May. Indeed, had a hoofed clearance not been hooked instinctively for Wilker Ángel to nod in, it is rather likely that many of the post-game headlines and plaudits would have instead been given to Baroja, who had pulled off a few crucial saves that appeared to have won it for Caracas.

Nevertheless, the country’s most successful club (11 championships) will have to regroup. Given their success over the course of both the Apertura and Clausura, it is unlikely that manager Saragó will want to make too many changes, though he may have his hand forced in this area. Indeed, Caracas have a reputation for developing and then selling their top young players and there are at least four in this squad who could be leaving for foreign shores either in the next few months or within the next year or two. Baroja would certainly be one, having earned so many plaudits this season – his third as Caracas’ number one choice – and being a good age for a player of his position – 25 – to make a move. Otero is definitely another player Saragó will do well to keep ahold of, having been linked with teams in Brazil, USA, Portugal, Switzerland and France in the past two years – in this regard, the length and nature of his foot injury will be important. According to his agent at least, also attracting interest from abroad is Jhonder Cádiz, a 19-year-old attacker who scored six times in 32 games in his first full season with the side, having been brought in from fellow capital side Deportivo Petare in early 2013. Lastly of this youthful crop, though there have been no stories suggesting interest from overseas, 20-year-old roaming right-back Jefre Vargas had a very encouraging season, contributing the most assists (7) in his 21 appearances and representing his country at the Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament in January.

Although they had an impressive Clausura, due largely to their ages, the rest of the Caracas defence are less likely to be snapped up by foreign suitors looking for long-term investments. Nevertheless, 27-year-old centre-back Andrés Sánchez must be given credit for his form, which was even noted by national boss Sanvicente, who gave him two starts against Honduras in a domestic-players-only set of friendlies in February. Another member of the backline to impress was left-back Rubert Quijada, 26, though to the dismay of some, despite being called up for Sanvicente’s first squad in September, he has since repeatedly been overlooked by the national team.

Elsewhere in the side, 34-year-old defence-minded midfielder and captain Miguel Mea Vitali is unlikely to be leaving the capital – indeed, he has recently signed a new contract – but with 6 goals and 6 assists over the course of the entire season, he has had a year to be proud of. Last but by no means least, 27-year-old striker Edder Farías had the best goalscoring year of his career, netting 17 times altogether, with 11 coming in the Clausura and thus essential to the title push. As he has failed to get into double figures in the league in his previous two years with Caracas, it is unlikely that any foreign suitor will take a chance on him – something that his current fans will be delighted about.

Overall, Caracas definitely had a good season but will obviously be devastated for some time yet to have missed out on the Clausura title. As the best-placed side in the Aggregate Table. they will be hoping early next year that they can still show the continent what they are capable of when they play in a two-legged playoff in order to qualify for the group stage of the 2016 Copa Libertadores.

Tables

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2015 Venezuela Liga Movistar Torneo Clausura Table (courtesy of Soccerway)

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2014/15 Venezuela Liga Movistar Aggregate Table (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Still to be Determined: Copa Sudamericana Places

Caracas may have to go through the play-off round, but Trujillanos and Deportivo Táchira have both already qualified for the 2016 Copa Libertadores group stage by virtue of winning, respectively, the Apertura and Clausura. They will now duke it out to see who will be the overall Venezuelan champions of 2014/15. However, this is not the only matter yet to be decided as on the day of their first leg, the mini post-season tournament – known as the Serie Pre-Sudamericana – to determine who gains the two remaining spots for this year’s Copa Sudamericana also begins.

Indeed, in all, four spots were available for this competition (the continent’s very loose equivalent to Europe’s Europa League), but two have already been taken. The first was won by Deportivo La Guaira after they won the Copa Venezuela back in December and the second has been earned by Deportivo Anzoátegui who, after finishing fourth in the Aggregate Table, are the highest ranked team available to claim the spot. Thus, in the upcoming competition the two remaining places will be contested by eight teams, these being the highest-ranked in the Aggregate Table who have not already qualified for a continental competition (in other words, 5th to 13th, excluding 6th-placed Apertura champions Trujillanos).

The first four knock-out games will be played over two legs on 10 & 13 May with the subsequent two matches contested on 17 & 20 May – the winners of these games will claim the last two 2015 Copa Sudamericana spots. Here are the first legs of the opening knock-out round to be played on 10 May:

Tucanes de Amazonas vs Mineros de Guayana

Estudiantes de Mérida vs Zamora

(The two winners of these two games will face each other for a Sudamericana spot on 17 & 20 May)

Carabobo vs Aragua

Atlético Venezuela vs Deportivo Lara

(The two winners of these two games will face each other for a Sudamericana spot on 17 & 20 May)

Lastly, just to serve as a final reminder and to sign off on the highest possible note, here are the fixtures and dates for the decisive two-legged Gran Final to determine the 2014/15 Liga Movistar winners:

Trujillanos vs Deportivo Táchira (10 May, Valera, Trujillo State)

Deportivo Táchira vs Trujillanos (17 May, San Cristóbal, Táchira)

For any updates on these matches, you can either follow @DarrenSpherical and/or return to this website where there will be reports and round-ups of all the action.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Wilker is Táchira’s Ángel as the Clausura-deciding Clásico Ends In Sensational Fashion

2015 Venezuelan Torneo Clausura (Final Day)

Sunday 3 May 2015 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas

 Caracas FC 2-2 Deportivo Táchira 

Video Highlights of Caracas FC 2-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Venezuelan Torneo Clausura, 3 May 2015 (Video courtesy of Highlights Venezuela)

Ángel is the Clásico Saviour at the Death for Clausura Champions Táchira 

What began as one of the most highly anticipated matches in Venezuelan football history ended as one of the most memorable as with virtually the last touch Wilker Ángel silenced the raucous Caracas hordes to snatch a sensational Torneo Clausura title win for the hosts’ bitter clásico rivals, Deportivo Táchira. 

Click Here to Watch a Fan’s Eye View of Wilker Ángel’s Last-Gasp Goal.

The 22-year-old centre-back was far from the most predictable hero yet, having reportedly attracted interest from teams elsewhere in South America as well as Europe, whatever his future holds, he can be assured of a place in the folklore of Los Aurinegros. Only seconds before his last-gasp deed, the majority of the full-capacity Estadio Olímpico de la UCV had been booming out rhythmic chants of ‘Dale Ro’ (a contraction which in full would translate as ‘Come on, Reds’), anticipating Los Rojos del Ávila to be soon parading the Clausura trophy around the pitch following this final-day encounter. They had, after all, come into the game with 38 points to Táchira’s 40 and thus needed a win in order to lift the silverware – something they appeared to have achieved following top-scorer Edder Farías’ 80th-minute strike that put them in front for the first time in the game.

However, all of the euphoria that greeted this goal and then continued for the following 13 minutes was to be abruptly quashed in the fourth and final minute of stoppage-time. After one of several late, desperate Táchira attacks broke down, the ball was immediately hoisted from their half all the way back downfield. Bouncing into the Caracas area kindly for Yuber Mosquera, the Colombian remarkably hooked it over to his fellow defensive team-mate Ángel, who benefited from some lax tracking to head the ball in what seemed like slow motion past the frozen Alain Baroja. The home fans’ sudden loss of voice – with the exception of some stray horrified screams – was in stark contrast to the uncontainable roars of joy that could be heard in the distance at the opposite end of the ground. Like a magnetic force comprising of Táchira’s collective spirit, they were to attract Ángel, who dashed all the way back to his own half before falling onto his knees in front of them, raising out his arms Christ-like to embrace the acclaim befitting such a saviour. To no avail, one member of the Táchira backroom staff – who just seconds before was celebrating with arguably even fewer inhibitions – soon rushed onto the pitch to urge him back up and to ensure he maintained focus. Indeed, Ángel, smiling from ear to ear, was physically and mentally in dreamland. With the final whistle blowing almost as soon as the restart, his giddy lack of composure mattered not a jot as he and his team-mates were suddenly free to savour their breathtaking accomplishment on enemy territory.

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Wilker Ángel celebrating his Clausura-winning goal for Deportivo Táchira (Imagery courtesy of DirecTV)

Considered as a whole, it was a fair result but that made it no less crushing for Caracas and particularly their goalkeeper, Alain Baroja. Indeed, having recently solidified his place as the national team’s second choice, he has been making strong claims throughout the campaign to become the future number one. Here, though he had no chance with Yohandry Orozco’s close-range volley in the 70th minute that rattled off the bar, he did particularly well in the 83rd minute to keep his side’s title dream alive. Firstly, he made a spectacular save from Jorge Rojas’ curler from the edge of the area and then made a dramatic double-stop from the resulting corner, initially blocking a header and then smothering Javier López’s rebound. Alas, as soon as Ángel’s header agonisingly bypassed him into the vacant opposite corner he knew that the game was up and could do little more than cover his crestfallen face with his shirt. Though he missed out on being the designated hero of the day by the tightest of margins, Baroja can at least be assured that his reputation has been further bolstered following this outing.

With the propensity for top South American talent to be snapped up after the earliest signs of promise, quite what the future holds for the likes of Baroja and his talented team-mates remains to be seen. The capital’s finest, with 11 overall championships to their name and a strong record of producing quality exports, are the most successful side in Venezuelan history and, irrespective of the final outcome, had a season to be proud of. Indeed, while they finished 2nd in the Clausura and 3rd in the Apertura, they accumulated the highest amount of points overall (70, to Táchira’s 64).

Nevertheless, while some – particularly those accustomed to European league formats – may quibble with the domestic structures that mean Caracas will finish the season empty-handed (barring a Copa Libertadores Qualifying Round berth), there can be little doubt that Táchira earned this Clausura title. Indeed, unlike Caracas, they were fighting on two fronts throughout, having to first qualify for the Copa Libertadores over two legs against Paraguayans Cerro Porteño and then play six, often demoralising, group games. These eight additional matches caused significant disruptions to their schedule as up until the closing stages of the campaign, they were to regularly find themselves two to three games behind their domestic rivals. This made their run-in comparatively onerous as before the 18/19 April weekend of league fixtures, they were four points behind Caracas with two games in hand and yet the five remaining matches they were to play over the final 16 days of the Clausura could scarcely have been tougher. However, with considerable stamina and character, they won the first four of these, starting with a 2-1 away victory at Deportivo La Guaira (who finished 7th, but were narrow runners-up in the Apertura as well as Copa Venezuela winners), then 2-1 at home to Deportivo Anzoátegui (finished 4th), a narrow 1-0 at home to last year’s champions Zamora (finished 3rd) and then a relatively comfortable 3-0 home defeat of Deportivo Lara (finished 5th).

With this final win in this remarkable string of results, they finally overtook Caracas and led them by two points going into the final encounter. As has been relayed, despite the manner in which the draw was ultimately achieved, they were far from unworthy of the result and were to approach the game with few visible signs of exhaustion. Indeed, capitalising on a misdirected header from Jhonder Cádiz, César González blasted them into the lead with less than a quarter of an hour gone and was to have no qualms about celebrating against the club he represented from 2005-07. Following this, although Félix Cásseres was to strike the hosts level midway through the first half with a pearl of a shot and Edder Farías put them ahead late on, Táchira more than held their own in terms of chances created and, were it not for the crossbar and Baroja, could have wrapped up the title in far less dramatic circumstances. Thus, Ángel’s goal, as heartbreaking for Caracas and unexpected for everyone else as it may have been, ultimately topped off a thoroughly well-fought campaign.

When all was said and done, from a neutral’s standpoint, this clásico del fútbol venezolano certainly lived up to the billing and was a fine advertisement for domestic football in this often overlooked South American nation. Not just on the pitch, but also in the stands as, barring the empty section to help effectively segregate these rival fans, the ground was full of spectactors and noise from the first whistle to the last. Barring a bottle that connected with the head of José Miguel Reyes on his side’s victory lap, the behaviour was also significantly better than was feared (according to the latest reports, at least, although quite a few knives were allegedly seized by police). No doubt this was aided by the many individuals who were reportedly on hand to keep a vigilant look-out for trouble: 600 members of the Policía Nacional Bolivariana (and their canines), 270 private security personnel, 150 members of the Guardia Nacional, the fire brigade and countless more.

Given that this derby once infamously ended with the Caracas team bus being commandeered onto the pitch and then set alight in flames, many who want to see the nation’s domestic game flourish will be cautiously optimistic following how events transpired this time around. This was in marked contrast to how the finale of the Torneo Apertura ended in the same stadium, when fellow tenants Deportivo Petare had their game abandoned after 52 minutes against eventual title-winners Trujillanos due to a lack of security to deal with some youths who were throwing objects from outside the perimeter gates and issuing threats.

Whether Venezuelan domestic football has really moved on in this area may take years to determine but nevertheless, next on the agenda for Táchira will be the two-legged Gran Final against Trujillanos, the winner of which will be crowned the overall 2014/15 season champions. The first leg will be the away encounter for Táchira in Valera on Sunday 10 May with the return game being played on home soil in San Cristóbal on 17 May. As their more modest opposition have lost a few key players since their December triumph, Táchira will be hot favourites to add another estrella to their crest and claim their eighth league championship.

To find out how they get on as well as to read a more broad look back at the Torneo Clausura please keep checking back to this site in the near future and, if you are not already, consider following this site’s affiliated Twitter account, @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Participation in the 2015 Copa Libertadores – Review

With the three Venezuelan teams, Zamora, Deportivo Táchira and Mineros de Guayana, having recently completed their Copa Libertadores campaigns, Hispanospherical.com inhales deeply and looks in detail at what was a largely dispiriting experience for all concerned.

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Bright Start: Following a sensational goal in their opening game, Zamora’s Arles Flores leads a well-choreographed celebration that received attention far outside of South America. Sadly, such Venezuelan joy was rarely to be seen in the remainder of the group stage (Imagery courtesy of the Metro and the Daily Mirror from this video).

Copa Libertadores 2015: Review of the Venezuelan Participants

18 games, 13 defeats, 4 draws and, following the very last match whose outcome will have thwarted the pre-planned narratives of obituary writers everywhere, 1 win. That was the record in this year’s Copa Libertadores group stage of the three Venezuelans sides, Zamora, Mineros de Guayana and Deportivo Táchira. A derisory performance even for the representatives of this nation of perennial outsiders and one that certainly stakes a claim to be their worst in the current format of the competition. Indeed, while the average number of points gained per match this year (0.3888) was marginally superior to 2012 (0.3333) and 2010 (0.25), the scale of their collective failure is unrivalled in recent history. This was, after all, the first time in eleven attempts that the team in the qualifying round (in this case, Táchira) successfully negotiated their way into the group stage, thus bringing the Venezuelan contingent to a dizzying three. Yet, having another six games to endure only appeared to prolong the misery as not only was it clear before the halfway point that none of the teams were likely to progress but that, between them, they ended up conceding a jarring 46 goals.

It was all a far cry from, say, 2007 when Caracas FC won at home and away against River Plate or, more significantly, 2009 when they and long-standing rivals Táchira gained 19 points between them, with the capital’s finest ultimately unfortunate to go out to Grêmio in the quarter-finals on away goals. Back then, while Venezuela’s footballing reputation was in the ascendancy, a far greater number of its talents remained at domestic clubs with some foreign suitors still maintaining their scepticism regarding their adaptability – something that has been decreasingly the case in recent years. Indeed, as with most successful sides in South America, their key personnel is always in the shop window, a factor that particularly disadvantaged the 2013/14 champions Zamora this time around. Given the well-documented problems of improving the competitiveness and quality of a league outside of the European elite, one can not help but fear that this year’s poor results – not entirely dissimilar to those in 2012 and 2010, albeit with an additional team – are part of a trend that is set to continue.

Nevertheless, what follows are summaries of the campaigns and most noteworthy performers of the three Venezuelans clubs who competed in this year’s Copa Libertadores, starting with the side most affected by the aforementioned issues. (Please note: to read match reports and view video highlights of every single game, click here or on the relevant links in the text below)

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El Blanquinegro, from Hugo Chávez’s home state of Barinas, came into the tournament as reigning two-time champions and were also leading the Torneo Clausura which, with just over a week to go, they still have a slight chance of winning (*Update: they did following their Libertadores exit but that is no longer the case – see footnote at the bottom for an update on the domestic situation). However, their second successive championship win in May 2014 was to swiftly be met with the departures of key individuals which were to have a significant impact on their showing in the Libertadores. Indeed, playmaker Pedro Ramírez – nicknamed by some as the ‘Venezuelan Messi’ largely for a mazy dribbled goal – joined Switzerland’s FC Sion, leading goalscorer Juan Falcón signed for Ligue 1’s FC Metz and defender Jonathan España opted to try his luck with Cyprus’ AEL Limassol. Other players, particularly those crucial to the rearguard, were to leave (more on them later) but the most keenly felt loss of all was undoubtedly that of manager Noel Sanvicente to the national side.

‘Chita’, to give him his affectionate moniker, not only won both titles with this club, but also brought home five championships between 2002 and 2010 for Caracas FC, where he also led their impressive Libertadores campaigns. His successor Juvencio Betancourt was to last just six league games and things were to get worse before they could get better under his replacement Julio Quintero, who was to take his charges to the foot of the Torneo Apertura in October before turning things around for a 12th-placed finish. Yet, while he has done well domestically in this year’s Clausura, with his side having been rarely out of the top three, he has achieved this largely with the remnants of last year’s squad along with one or two new faces who are simply not of the calibre of their predecessors.

Thus, to match last year’s respectable showing of seven Libertadores points was always going to be a tall order though, having been drawn into a group with Boca Juniors, Montevideo Wanderers and Palestino, the possibility of sneaking second spot behind the Argentines did not seem out of question. However, Zamora were to be all but ruled out of contention after just two games.

Indeed, they kicked things off with an opening-day visit to the Uruguayan capital in a game that was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the group stage, yielding five goals, five red cards and a memorable bowling-themed celebration that featured on news outlets based all over the globe. Things began promisingly with 19-year-old starlet Jhon Murillo firing the then ten-man visitors 1-0 up on the counter and even with 15 minutes left on the clock, they were leading 2-1 on what at that point had become a level playing field. However, the dream start was not to be as Panamanian international Luis Ovalle received his marching orders after conceding a penalty that was duly converted which, in turn, was swiftly followed up with what proved to be the winner.

Losing was a bitter enough pill to swallow but Murillo’s injury-time dismissal (two-game suspension) as well as those of two defenders (one-game suspension each) gave lollipop-licking Quintero future selection issues that he struggled to negotiate. The largely full Estadio Agustín Tovar crowd nevertheless carried into the Palestino game some optimism which was to be dashed as 17-year-old Yeferson Soteldo was to both impress and frustrate by missing a hat-trick’s worth of chances (hitting the woodwork twice) in a 1-0 loss. Even at this early stage, the Venezuelan champions looked to be heading out as not only did they have no points but their next two games were against the unanimous group favourites, Boca Juniors.

Expectations were matched, as both encounters were unmitigated disasters. The trip to La Bombonera ended 5-0, a scoreline that could have been easily doubled had the Argentines took all of their chances, with Dani Osvaldo, a man in thrall to the concept of flamboyance, particularly wasteful. That the Southampton-loanee was afforded such space to repeatedly attempt to score the kind of goal that would be permanently etched into the retinas of every bostero spoke volumes about Zamora’s defensive performance. This was to be little better in the reverse fixture despite having been ostensibly aided by the Argentines’ decision to leave several top stars, including Osvaldo, in Buenos Aires. Indeed, though the returning Murillo was to give the Venezuelans a surprise first-half lead, the Xeneizes swiftly shifted out of first gear after the interval and were to leave 5-1 winners and with their 100 per cent record in tact. Zamora captain Luis Vargas added to his side’s woes by being their fourth player to be red-carded in the competition, which was compounded by Montevideo Wanderers earning a draw in Chile, thus bringing their tally to seven points and eliminating the Venezuelans.

Their two remaining group games were played with a weary sense of obligation, as they were thrashed 4-0 at the hands of a driven Palestino, before being dispatched 3-0 at home by Wanderers in a lacklustre encounter that saw the Uruguayans snatch a knock-out spot. Judging by the paltry crowd at this final match – believed to be well under 1000 – there was little desire amongst the fans of La Furia Llanera to see their side restore some pride in either of these reverse fixtures by demonstrating that their two opening losses were not entirely fair reflections on the overall play.

When all was said and done, Zamora had lost every one of their six games – the worst record of any Venezuelan side to have participated in the current format of the competition. Particularly galling was their goal difference of -18, having shipped 21 goals that were only offset by a mere 3 strikes at the other end. This was in stark contrast to last year’s more even statistics, when 6 goals were both scored and conceded, from what was a markedly more difficult group, comprising of then-holders Atlético Mineiro of Brazil, Colombia’s Santa Fe and Nacional of the Paraguayan variety. A brief comparison of the positive results they achieved in this group serves to highlight the deficiences that were witnessed this year. Indeed, not only were they led by serial winner Sanvicente but the departed Juan Falcón also scored all four of his goals in these games, netting the decisive goal in the 2-1 home win over Santa Fe, as well as both in the 2-2 draw in Colombia and the opener in the 2-0 victory in Barinas over Nacional. This year, Zamora did not possess an adequate replacement for their erstwhile marksman, with the only striker brought in being January-recruit Santiago Bello from the Uruguayan second-tier, who was to feature in four games in this edition – three times from the bench – without finding the net.

Last year, Pedro Ramírez also chipped in with a goal and some creativity, something that was also noticeably lacking this time around. However, arguably the most significant change from the previous campaign was to be found at the back, as the majority of those who featured regularly in 2014 left at the end of the season. Indeed, goalkeeper Yáñez Angulo as well as the defenders Hugo Soto, Javier López, Layneker Safra and Jonathan España have all since moved on, with most, if not all, of those filling their boots this year evidently not up to scratch. Having two defenders sent off in the first game – including Ovalle, who actually played five times in last year’s group stage – and the subsequent suspensions certainly did not help either.

Ultimately, if anything positive can be extracted from this season’s experience it will soon again be taken away from them. Jhon Murillo, the temperamental, dribbling winger who often drifts into more central positions, scored twice in his four appearances and has long been linked with a move abroad, with Torino and Celta Vigo the most recently touted destinations. Yeferson Soteldo, at just 17, could well follow suit in the not-too-distant future as though he may not have taken the chances that came his way, he was a lively presence and has become a regular starter in the league. That he has done so may instead prove in the long run to be further evidence of his club’s lack of depth at this particular time and given their rather humble means, fans must be wondering whether the good times enjoyed under Sanvicente will even be able to return anytime soon.

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Much enthusiasm from both domestic scribes as well as casual observers from afar greeted Táchira’s history-making 4-3 aggregate win against Paraguay’s six-time semi-finalists Cerro Porteño. For the first time since the current format was introduced in 2005, there were to be three, not two, Venezuelan sides to follow in the Copa Libertadores group stage. Drawn into a group containing another Paraguayan side, Guaraní, as well as Peruvians Sporting Cristal, a Round of 16 berth appeared eminently attainable. Seemingly bolstering their chances was the retention of the vast majority of the side that finished third in the 2014 aggregate table coupled with some useful additions, such as goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind and veteran international Jorge Rojas – the latter of whom scored a bona fide golazo in the first leg against Cerro.

The first game soon punctured this optimism, as a full-capacity Pueblo Nuevo was to witness a comprehensive 5-0 thrashing led by the superb partnership of Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou for Argentine champions Racing, the undisputed top dogs in the group. Immediately following this rude awakening, doubts that before the Cerro games had been regularly expressed resurfaced and at a higher volume. Indeed, in the Torneo Apertura, Táchira had contrived to throw away a commanding mid-point lead, not winning in their final eight games and finishing 11th, rendering manager Daniel Farías virtually a dead man walking. Furthermore, even the most partisan follower of Los Aurinegros would have to confess that their side rode their luck in the second leg against Cerro. Thus, in light of the car-crash performance against Racing, their response would be crucial.

For their second game, they travelled to Lima to face Sporting Cristal. Few lessons appeared to have been learned as the Peruvian champions took a first-half lead and were to comfortably dominate the play. However, with under five minutes remaining, they were made to pay for their profligacy as César González stepped up to curl a 25-yard free-kick into the back of the net. Grippingly for the neutral, there was to be further drama, though not a twist, as Renzo Sheput stepped up deep into stoppage-time to take a penalty but was to be spectacularly denied by Liebeskind as the Venezuelans held on.

Perhaps not the most deserved of points, but Táchira at least exhibited some backbone, essential ahead of their journey back to Asunción where this time they faced then-Apertura leaders Guaraní. Initially, despite conceding an early goal things appeared promising as ‘Maestrico’ González scored again to level up the score at 1-1 after just 17 minutes. However, they were to be blitzed by three goals in six first-half minutes and were to ultimately walk away smarting from a 5-2 defeat. Subsequently, the following week Zamora were to receive their second five-goal bashing from Boca and these games, along with Táchira’s comparable experiences here in Paraguay and against Racing, were to do sizeable damage to the reputation of Venezuelan domestic football on the continent.

Pessimism thus returned to the side representing the Colombia-bordering state of the same name. Progression began to feel like a fantasy from another age and next up was more potential embarrassment in the home fixture against Guaraní. However, to the relief of many, Farías’ men were to put in a far more respectable showing and could well have won it. A 21st-minute penalty was converted by experienced international González, thus providing him with his third goal in four matches. Lady Fortune appeared to be on their side when, after 32 minutes, Federico Santander’s spot-kick was saved by Liebskind which, at that point, was remarkably his fourth penalty stop since joining the club from Portuguesa just two months prior. However, nine minutes later, he was unable to improve on this statistic as Julián Benítez took command of a similar situation and buried the ball from the 12-yard spot. Despite being pegged back, Táchira were to have the better of the second half, though with just over 15 minutes to go Farías was to unintentionally abdicate any chance of winning the game by replacing his side’s most consistent threat, winger Yohandry Orozco. Consequently, ‘Fuera  Farías’ and ‘Farías hijo de puta’ were just two of the chants that were to be voiced by the home support and clearly captured for home-viewing around the continent up until the final whistle confirmed a 1-1 draw. As if to vindicate the angry hordes, the awarding of the Man of the Match prize indeed went to Orozco, a diminutive individual who just a few years ago was considered the next big thing of Venezuelan football.

At this point, Táchira were all-but-out and a 0-0 home draw against Cristal removed the miniscule and unvoiced doubt. Though overall it was as enthralling an encounter as it sounds and played in front of a ground well under half full, the hosts did have chances to pick up their first win. Indeed, firstly at the beginning of the second half, Orozco curled a fine free-kick against the post that was converted on the rebound by Uruguayan forward Pablo Olivera from an offside position (where he was to lurk wth frustrating frequency). Not long afterwards, Olivera was to receive a gilt-edged opportunity from a low cross by Orozco, yet from little more than six yards out he was to somehow direct it wide.

With their final game being away to Racing, the opportunity to give their fans at least something to smile about appeared to have been missed. Yet, remarkably, with 50 minutes on the clock, José Alí Meza, a regular impact substitute who was starting only his second Libertadores game this year, was to put Táchira into a shock 2-0 lead. Irrespective of the caveats involved, this was shaping up to be one of the most impressive results in the history of Venezuelan participation in this competition. Alas, it was not to be as, with twenty minutes remaining, the Argentine champions were back on level terms. In response, Farías, having already withdrawn Meza on the hour-mark, was to further enhance his reputation for unambitious substitutions with the removal of González and Orozco in the closing stages. Yet, with the score still at 2-2 when regulation time was up,  this was still shaping up to be a credible point. However, seconds into stoppage-time, 20-year-old goalkeeper José Contreras (who had played in the previous match as well), committed a calamitous error that may just haunt him for the rest of his career, as he let a relatively tame effort from Brian Fernández slip under him and inch over the line.

A gutting loss, every bit as soul-destroying as the reverse fixture was humiliating. Although their overall record may not have told the full story, Táchira had nevertheless failed to win, picking up as many draws as defeats and conceding 15 goals along the way. Aside from having scored two more goals this time around, this record was otherwise identical to the last time they reached the group stage – 2012 – not to mention a marginal improvement on the two points gained the previous year. However, it was a far cry from the nine-point haul of 2009, not to mention the remarkable undefeated group stage performance and run to the quarter-finals in 2004, a year that had a slightly different format that granted Venezuela three automatic entries.

If the Libertadores is considered to be a platform to advertise a player’s talents, quite where such a disappointing campaign leaves Táchira’s leading lights is difficult to surmise. Wilker Ángel, a 22-year-old centre-back who last year made his international debut and was rumoured to be interesting teams in South America and Europe, will not have done himself any favours by being on the field in both five-goal reversals. Yohandry Orozco, 24, had his creative moments and unsettled at least some of the defenders he ran at, yet while a move to another side on the continent does not seem out of the question, one does not anticipate another European side of note to be clamouring for his signature after his forgettable two-year spell at Wolfsburg. Gelmin Rivas, the club’s top scorer whose two goals in Asunción ensured their advancement to the competition proper, had been attracting attention from Belgium but, though he has 20 league goals, he could not find the net once in his three group game starts. Two of the most impressive performers, César González and, with some qualifications given the number of goals conceded, Alan Liebeskind, are both in their thirties and unlikely to be top of the lists of those looking for long-term value.

Ultimately, although this campaign was no worse than the last two occasions they reached this phase, Táchira will surely still be rather disappointed at the two hidings that they endured as well as not getting more out of at least two of the three games that they drew. Nevertheless, they must now dust themselves off as, with the Clausura ending on 3 May, they retain a significant chance of winning the title and thus securing another opportunity to right some wrongs in next year’s Libertadores.*

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Comfortably the worst-performing Venezuelan side in the league going into this competition, Mineros were to end their Libertadores campaign with the most respectable results, the most points and, at the very last opportunity, the only win. This, despite never reaching the group stage in the present format (two qualifying round losses in 2005 and 2008 were the closest that they had come), sacking a second manager of the season during the competition and ending their participation as still comfortably the worst-performing Venezuelan side in the league. Indeed, though Richard Páez, former national team manager (2001-07) led them to finish top of the 2013 Torneo Apertura and the 2013/14 Aggregate Table as well as end up as the overall runners-up, he was out of the door by late September. His first six games of the season had been deemed unsatisfactory, but his replacement Marcos Mathías had little joy attempting to return his charges to their former level. Instead, they finished the Apertura in 6th and commenced their participation in the Libertadores while occupying a mediocre mid-table position in the Torneo Clausura.

It has been something of a quandary attempting to decipher what precisely is wrong in Puerto Ordaz as while they did lose a star from last season in the form of international midfielder Alejandro Guerra (more on him later), that alone can not account for their slump. Indeed, they had also brought in some quality players at the beginning of the Apertura, such as first-choice international left-back Gabriel Cichero. At the start of the Clausura, they also added two key members of Trujillanos’ Apertura title-winning team, defender Edixon Cuevas and striker James Cabezas.

Nevertheless, given their underwhelming form, they entered their first game away to Argentina’s Huracán as firm underdogs. Yet, though they were on the backfoot for at least two-thirds of the match, some of the considerable experience in their ranks came to the fore as they frustrated the Copa Argentina winners before ultimately coming within a minute of emerging victorious. Indeed, against the run of play, Colombian forward Zamir Valoyes gave them a 22nd-minute lead from a free-kick and though they were pegged back, come the final thirty minutes, their absorption of Argentine attacks had appeared to exhaust the hosts of ideas. Subsequently, they started to make a go for it and, remarkably, after some close scrapes, Valoyes netted again from a penalty (of admittedly dubious origin). Alas, not for the only time in this year’s competition, a Venezuelan side was to shoot themselves in the foot as a last-minute spot-kick was conceded and then converted as the honours ended even.

Even so, a point in Buenos Aires can never be sniffed at and so going into their home game against Club Universitario de Sucre – champions of Bolivia, whose teams are not renowned for travelling well – there were ample reasons to anticipate victory. Instead, what transpired was a largely dreary, horror show of tedium that was short on chances, enlivened only by an appalling fumble by Mineros goalkeeper Rafael Romo that gifted the visitors the only goal and the first Bolivian Libertadores win in Venezuela since 1994. Having also made a rather glaring error in the Huracán game, as well as some recent miscalculations in the league, the home supporters were in an unforgiving mood and proceeded to boo the international’s every touch until the end of the match. To make matters worse, several minutes later, the preceding week’s two-goal hero Valoyes was given a straight red card for an excruciating midfield challenge, ruling himself out of the next game. Capping off a tension-filled night, when the final whistle was blown there were plenty of calls for the head of manager Mathías. While the fans did not get their wish immediately, two weeks later following a mid-March 5-2 domestic thrashing by Táchira, they did, with assistant Tony Franco instead handed an opportunity until the end of the season.

His first task a couple of days after taking the reins could hardly have been greater. A home match against Brazilian champions Cruzeiro would be daunting for almost any side yet, though they were to ultimately lose 2-0, they actually acquitted themselves rather admirably and could come away with their dignity in tact. After Leandro Damião opened the scoring in the 12th minute, Mineros immediately fought back and created many opportunities throughout the game, looking like they may sneak a draw until Marquinhos sealed the win with seven minutes remaining. The reverse fixture in Belo Horizonte was to reflect not quite so favourably on the Venezuelans as two superb goals early on from Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Damião opened up the possibility of a trouncing of the magnitude Táchira and Zamora both twice endured. However, though Henrique got a third in the 73rd minute, Mineros can perhaps feel some contentment in their relative resilience – something their compatriots could perhaps learn from in preparation for future Libertadores clashes.

Despite these credible performances, they were nevertheless losses and their fifth game, away to Club Universitario in the high altitude of Sucre, is where their already faint hopes of making it out of the group evaporated. In a game somewhat more entertaining than the reverse fixture, a goal at the end of each half gave the Bolivians the victory and put them in with a strong chance of qualifying from the group. However, on the final matchday they were to face a trip to Brazil, whereas another of their rivals, Huracán, travelled to Venezuela, with the Bolivians knowing that if they lost and the Argentines won, they would be eliminated.

Yet, though they were to succumb to Cruzeiro 2-0, they were to owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mineros de Guayana who, in the very last group game contested by a Venezuelan side this year, surprised some by claiming the first – and only – victory for their nation. Indeed, as in Buenos Aires, while Huracán were to enjoy plenty of time on the ball, they were to struggle to create clear-cut chances with the Mineros defence largely blocking them off. Valoyes was to repeat his Argentine feats here by scoring another two goals – this time both before the half-time whistle – with international midfielder Rafael Acosta getting a third in the second half. Huracán’s players and coaching staff as well as many in the international media were visibly stunned at this 3-0 reversal, yet one can not help but feel their opponents were unjustly underestimated. While Mineros were playing without four or five first-team regulars and were already out of the competition, they did nevertheless achieve a 2-2 draw in February against the Argentines, who in turn, should perhaps be considered a second-tier Argentine side, given they sit 25th in the bloated 30-team domestic top-flight. Indeed, that all of Mineros’ five goals and four points came against Huracán should cause the men from Parque Patricios to pause to ponder in order to avoid heading back to the second division they were playing in last season.

Given the standard of this opposition, Mineros’ status as the best-performing Venezuelan side can easily be criticised. Indeed, even with their relatively respectable results against Cruzeiro, one has to bear in mind that the Brazilian giants have only scored more than three goals in any competitive game once since last August (and that occurred against Mineiro State Championship side Villa Nova who, nationally, compete in Série D). Nevertheless, it could be that the experience many players in this team possess of playing in the Libertadores as underdogs in the past for other Venezuelan sides facilitated their occasional strategic recognition of their shortcomings and defensive approaches. Indeed, at the back, the thirtysomethings Gabriel Cichero, Julio Machado and Edixon Cuevas as well as 41-year-old Luis Vallenilla all brought considerable know-how to this area of the pitch. Highly decorated Edgar Jiménez, who played for Caracas FC from 2003-2012, also certainly knew his way through such games while, in his case, sitting in front of the back four. Thus, while their goal difference was nothing to celebrate, their concession of a comparatively respectable ten goals was considerably better than the defences of Zamora and Táchira fared and may owe something to their experience and organisation of these players.

However, most of these individuals will not be anticipating life-changing foreign transfers as, like 29-year-old top scorer Valoyes, age is not really on their side. For the Colombian striker, a minor move at some point to his homeland to the west may not be entirely out of the question, but if any major scouts witnessed his side’s games, their attention may have instead been directed towards two of his younger team-mates. Indeed, Ángelo Peña, 25, whose jinking runs, diagonal balls and incisive passes often caught the eye, has already played in Brazil and Portugal and if he can be more consistent in his form then he may well depart for a third overseas adventure. In the long-term, 18-year-old left-sided midfielder Luis Guerra may well prove to have the brightest future, though it is difficult to tell at this early stage. Currently in his debut season, he only really came to prominence in the final game against Huracán – his first Libertadores start – but he put in a noteworthy performance, particularly with his role in the second goal which involved a run up the flank that bypassed three players.

Whether he turns out to be yet another winger of the week remains to be seen but as much as the fans will have gained some confidence from his side’s final game, this has been a season to forget for Mineros. Their fall from grace has been rather depressing to witness and despite having gained this rare opportunity to show the continent what they are capable of, their domestic position ensures that they will not be granted a second bite at the cherry next year. If there is a saving grace, however, it is that they possess a higher budget than most of their rivals. Indeed, despite their poor Apertura showing, they were still able to snap up Cabezas and Cuevas, two of the star men of the winners, Trujillanos. Though such purchases can not be said to have been a success thus far, the agitated Mineros fans will be hoping, if not demanding, that their resources are utilised with more acumen ahead of next season.

Down But Not Entirely Out: Venezuelans Abroad Flying the Flag 

Although all three Venezuelan teams have been eliminated, there still remains a Venezuelan interest in the tournament as attention will now solely be on their compatriots at two teams from their westerly neighbours, Colombia. Indeed, starting with the 2014 Finalización winners Santa Fe, left-sided international midfielder Luis Manuel Seijas currently plies his trade here and is often a first-team regular. Unfortunately, he has recently had problems with injuries and so could only make two brief appearances in his side’s group games – both of which were victories over Atlas of Mexico. However, though Santa Fe lost both of their games against Atlético Mineiro, they twice defeated Chilean champions Colo-Colo to end up winners of Group 1 with 12 points. Through to the Round of 16, they – and hopefully a fully fit Seijas – will now face Argentina’s Estudiantes de La Plata, with the first leg taking place in the Buenos Aires Province on 5 May and the reverse fixture in Bogotá on 12 May.

Also through to the knock-out stage is Alejandro Guerra, who may be able to pass his Vinotinto team-mate some notes as his side Atlético Nacional (2014 Apertura champions) finished top of Group 7, ahead of Estudiantes. In all, he featured in five games – only missing the 2-2 opening matchday draw away to Paraguay’s Libertad – and made his most notable contribution as an acrobatic goalscoring substitute in a 2-1 win away in Guayaquil against Barcelona. While he also started in an entertaining 3-2 home reversal inflicted upon them by the Ecuadorians, he had more positive experiences in a 1-0 away win and a 1-1 home draw against Estudiantes, as well as a 4-0 home thumping over Libertad, which sealed their progression. Furthermore, Jonathan Copete, a Colombian by birth but who has played at length in Venezuela and has been in talks to represent the nation, scored the last goal in this game. Both he and Guerra now look forward to a two-legged tie with Barcelona’s Clásico del Astillero rivals Emelec, returning to Guayaquil for the first leg on 7 May before taking the Ecuadorians back to Medellín on 14 May.

Drawn in eminently winnable match-ups, Venezuelans will be hoping that their leading representatives on the continent will be able to continue to fly the flag in this premier competition for some time yet.

*Torneo Clausura Update (17 May 2014): As this article was written when most domestic teams had 2-3 games remaining, hopefully readers will find an update on the league situation helpful. After a breathtakingly dramatic climax, Táchira claimed the title, with Caracas a very narrow 2nd and Zamora in 3rd. Subsequently, Táchira beat Trujillanos in the Gran Final to be crowned the overall 2014/15 champions of Venezuela. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Racing de Avellaneda 3-2 Deportivo Táchira – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8 (14 April 2015)

Tuesday 14 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8

Racing de Avellaneda 3-2 Deportivo Táchira

 Estadio Presidente Juan Domingo Perón, Avellaneda, Buenos Aires

Goal Highlights of Racing de Avellaneda 3-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 14 April 2015 (courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Rare Venezuelan Optimism Cruelly Dashed Following Late Blunder

Despite already being out of this year’s Copa Libertadores, Venezuela’s Deportivo Táchira nearly pulled off a shock victory against the Argentine champions but were to ultimately be denied by a comeback painfully completed at the death.

Given the significance of seeding in the draw for the knock-out phase and the fact that the hosts had yet to confirm their position at the top of group, they certainly had good reason to go for victory here in their final group game. However, perhaps their 5-0 demolition of their opponents in San Cristóbal back in February was a little too fresh in their memories as while they enjoyed much of the ball in the first half, clear chances were in short supply. Indeed, although Iván Pillud on the right and, more centrally, the likes of Washington Camacho, Óscar Romero, Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou, played the ball around a lot in the final third, they tended to either lack the killer pass or were blocked off by a wall-cum-gauntlet of Táchira players. The closest they came in the first half-hour was when the competition’s top-scorer Bou was played through on 18 minutes but goalkeeper José Contreras raced out to block him off. He was, in any event, offside.

Despite the general flow favouring the group leaders, the humble visitors still managed to make their presence known in the early stages, gaining free-kicks in promising positions and enjoying attacks down the flanks led by Yohandry Orozco and José Alí Meza. It was to be the latter, who has started less than half of his side’s league games and is more often used as an impact substitute, who opened the scoring after 30 minutes. To everyone’s surprise, not least that of the player who had hitherto only managed to find the net in the Copa Venezuela, he profited from some slack marking around the halfway line. He gained some space, dribbled down the inside-right channel while holding off two defenders, before completing what amounted to a 360-degree turn and striking home from the edge of the area.

This most certainly was not in the script. Though it should have served as a wake-up call for the hosts, little changed in the immediate aftermath. Their first real chance to get back in the game occurred in the 37th minute when a cross from Romero on the right reached Milito on the stretch at the back post but he was in such an acute position that he could only head into the side-netting. Their next effort of note was their best of the half and occurred just before the break. Bou received a pass on the right within the area and slapped a fine shot low across goal that Contreras did well to tip onto the far post. The ball rebounded out, narrowly avoiding an attacker, with the Venezuelans just about escaping and heading into the break with their unanticipated lead in tact.

While half-time for both sides must have involved drastically contrasting team-talks, these no doubt required rapid re-thinks less than five minutes after the restart. Incredibly, following on from a pass by César González, Meza managed to find the net again, nimbly evading a challenge before striking home a low effort at Saja’s near post to make it 2-0. Even though Táchira were effectively playing for nothing and Racing’s position in the group made their attitude towards the game questionable, the Venezuelans were nevertheless in dreamland. Leading the full-strength Argentine champions by two goals on their own turf is certainly not to be sniffed at and even taking into account the caveats, this was shaping up to be one of the finest Venezuelan moments in the Copa Libertadores.

Alas, it was not to be. The fightback began in the 58th minute when the widely admired strike-force of Gustavo Bou and Diego Milito combined, with the former receiving a diagonal ball then hitting a cross into the goalmouth for the ex-Inter Milan marksman to tap in.

With their lead halved, manager Daniel Farías soon made changes, the first of which was the surprising replacement of Meza with the less mobile Uruguayan forward Pablo Olivera. Not only had Meza scored twice in what was arguably the game of his life, but by chasing long-range balls and dribbling at the opposition’s back line, he was often playing a leading role in relieving the strain on the defence. With his withdrawal went such moments.

Instead, Racing ramped up the pressure, pitching their tents in the Venezuelan half. In the 67th minute substitute Brian Fernández must have rattled some nerves as much as he shattered the crossbar with a ferocious strike from 25 yards that was hit with such velocity that it rebounded well over 30 yards away from the goal. Denied, but not for long as three minutes later Bou drew his team level. A combination of opposing players headed on a corner to the competition’s top scorer and following a low strike at the near post, he increased his tally to seven goals in six matches.

With twenty minutes still left on the clock and the momentum with the hosts, Táchira were to offer very little going forward, content instead to aim for the reduced glory of a draw. As time wore on, Farías enhanced his reputation for unadventurous and unpopular substitutions, firstly taking off César González, who played the crucial passes that led to both goals and replaced him with 37-year-old Jorge Rojas. Then, with a couple of minutes left, top scorer Gelmin Rivas came on for pacey Yohandry Orozco, who had been playing a role not entirely dissimilar to that of Meza and who was also taken off in an earlier Libertadores game with Club Guaraní to widespread dismay.

Nevertheless, when the 90-minute mark was reached, the game was still 2-2 and owing to a combination of the resilience of the visitors and the lack of urgency of the hosts, Racing had not done much to further threaten the opposition goal. However, just seconds later, disaster struck. On the edge of the area, Fernández dipped a shoulder and quickly got a shot away that should have been comfortable for Contreras. However, to what will be the goalkeeper’s eternal horror, he did not get enough of his body behind the ball and it went under him, trickling agonisingly over the line. Racing, in little over half an hour, had completed the turnaround whereas Táchira, having done so well to confound expectations, ultimately were to go away empty handed and, particularly in the case of Contreras, permanently scarred.

Thus ended the 2015 Copa Libertadores campaign of Deportivo Táchira. Despite impressively qualifying for the competition following an aggregate win over solid Paraguayan outfit Cerro Porteño, they were to underwhelm in the group stage, gaining just three draws and no victories from their six games. Quite where this leaves Daniel Farías remains to be seen as, despite being under pressure after a dreadful 11th-placed finish in the Torneo Apertura, they are currently second in the Torneo Clausura and, with a handful of games left, could well emerge victorious.

A more thorough look at Táchira’s shortcomings should appear on this website soon after all three Venezuelan sides have completed their group matches so be sure to either check back here and/or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter to find out about that and much more.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical