Thursday 08 November 2018, 04:43

Youngsters spurring Venezuela's rise

  • La Vinotinto match best ever ranking position of 29

  • New-look squad contains many runners-up from last U-20 World Cup

  • 11 of the 21 who featured in Korea given debut or call-up

On Thursday 25 October, Venezuelan football was greeted by the news that: the national team were up to 29th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, equalling their highest ever position, which they last achieved in August 2014. Despite playing very little in 2018, the latest ranking confirm that La Vinotinto are definitely a team on the up, having risen no fewer than 45 places since Rafael Dudamel was appointed head coach in April 2016.

As soon as he was given the news, the coach congratulated his squad but also reminded everyone of the ultimate goal of Venezuelan football, saying: “This is all down to the efforts of the players, who represent us with talent and pride whenever they wear our colours. We’re privileged to be at this juncture with our football. Being among the top 30 teams in the world encourages us to continue working towards our goal of Qatar 2022.”

That quest to finally grace a FIFA World Cup is one that constantly occupies the thoughts of the coaching staff as well as the team’s increasingly passionate and growing fan base. Long gone are the days when the public’s love of baseball, the main national sport, meant that football fans were often more interested in supporting Brazil or Argentina then their own national team.

The generation of players that included the talented but now-retired Juan Arango could not propel Venezuela to a maiden World Cup, and the country is now putting its faith in the next generation, the so-called chamos (kids), who last year delighted their compatriots by finishing runners-up at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017. Indeed, Venezuela’s improved form in the latter stages of the last World Cup qualifying campaign can be partly attributed to the inclusion of some of these same youngsters in the senior squad.

Even though La Vinotinto finished last in South American qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, their final fixtures showed clear evidence of a revival. They remained unbeaten in their last four games, recording valuable draws against Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay, alongside a victory in Paraguay.

2018 has also yielded a positive balance for the team. Despite contesting no friendlies in the first part of the year, Dudamel’s charges registered victories over Panama and United Arab Emirates, and a narrow defeat to Colombia during the September and October international breaks.

Following on from their heroics in June 2017, many of those young players have been called up to play alongside established figures like midfielder Tomas Rincon and strikers Salomon Rondon and Josef Martinez.

Late last month, Martinez picked up the Golden Boot after setting a new MSL regular-season record of 31 goals for Atlanta United. Meanwhile, Rondon, with his brace against Panama, took his international tally to 21 goals to move to within two of Arango’s all-time record.

“The vibes have been very good. [We have] the privilege of being able to enjoy the youngsters who were runners-up at the World Cup and who are now in the mix alongside the more experienced players. This allows us to find a good balance in the squad and look to the future with unparalleled optimism,” said Dudamel.

“We have to give them playing time so that they keep developing and are well prepared for the start of the next World Cup qualifying campaign, which will be long, demanding, emotionally draining and eventful,” he added.

Making the step up As well as goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez (20 years old, 10 international appearances), midfielder Yangel Herrera (20 years old, 6 appearances) and forward Adalberto Penaranda (21 years old, 12 appearances), who had already made their full international debuts before Korea, Dudamel has also called up the following members of that U-20 squad.

  • Yeferson Soteldo, creative midfielder (21 years old, 7 appearances)

  • Sergio Cordova, forward (21 years old, 6 appearances)

  • Ronaldo Lucena, midfielder (21 years old, 3 appearances)

  • Ronald Hernandez, right back (21 years old, 2 appearances)

  • Nahuel Ferraresi, centre back (19 years old, 1 appearance)

  • Ronaldo Pena, forward (21 years old, awaiting debut)

  • Jose Hernandez, left back (21 years old, awaiting debut)

  • Samuel Sosa, winger (18 years old, awaiting debut)