Tuesday 18 October 2016, 10:00

Pride and pain for Castellanos & Co

There was no music blaring out, nor could any of the usual yells be heard through the closed door of the Venezuela dressing room. In their place, it was radio silence.

The reason? La Vinotinto had just fallen at the penultimate hurdle in the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, exactly as they had two years ago. Having succumbed 4-1 at the hands of Japan in the semi-finals last time round, on this occasion Korea DPR were their conquerors by an equally heavy three-goal margin. "The Asians are a step ahead of us," said one of the team's dejected kitmen, who was guarding the entrance.

The door duly opened and out stepped a calm-looking Deyna Castellanos, carrying a fairy cake – which she picked at occasionally while she spoke to FIFA.com – and some fruit juice. Despite allowing herself the odd smile during the conversation, her huge sense of disappointment was palpable. "Korea didn't win the match - we lost it," she said, not beating about the bush, "We had what it takes to get to the final this year, but we failed to show it. We didn't play our game."

The attacking star's words followed 90 minutes in which she was driven to the brink of despair by the lack of service from her team-mates and her own inability to make the most of the few chances that did come her way. "It's pretty similar to what happened two years ago. It's going to be a bitter night," she went on. However, she was also mindful that her team have got to move on swiftly and that it is partly her job, as captain, to rally the troops: "I've got to tell the girls that there's still another match to go, and that it offers Venezuela the chance to claim a place on the podium. Finishing third would also be a fantastic achievement."

We mustn't throw in the towel because we've still got one game to go, which is the most important of the lot.

Sharing the burden with Castellanos will be her fellow veterans from the campaign in Costa Rica, such as Sandra Luzardo, Veronica Herrera and Nayluisa Caceres. "I think this hurts us more than anyone, but we've got to lift the team's spirits again," she said with a wry smile.

At that moment, the door opened again and none other than Luzardo came out. The battling defender sported a blank expression and was clearly still digesting the defeat. "It's tough to come close to reaching the final and be knocked out again. This is the second time," she said. Mumbling somewhat, she was visibly striving to keep her composure and soon turned her attention to Venezuela's next assignment. "We mustn't throw in the towel because we've still got one game to go, which is the most important of the lot. We can't give up. That is in our DNA." It is a message she will need to hold on to and constantly remind her team-mates of in the coming days to stave off any further despondency.

One after the other, the rest of the Vinotinto players filtered silently out of the dressing room and on to the team bus. Then, while the kitmen gathered up the last bits and bobs, coach Kenneth Zseremeta appeared. Having also been at the helm two years ago, the disappointment was doubly acute for him too, but he spoke philosophically: "It's painful, but we've got to acknowledge that we have a long way to go to get where Japan and Korea are," he said, adding that, "Three of the teams who made it this far are powerhouses, whereas we're underdogs."

After highlighting the credentials of his side's opponents in Friday's play-off for third place, Spain, Zseremeta followed that up with some fighting talk. "We haven't hit our ceiling. We've got a game left and of course we can finish third." Having led his team to fourth in Costa Rica, the Venezuela coach is targeting going one better in Jordan and was adamant that there is plenty for his charges still to play for. As he vowed in conclusion: "We've got a score to settle."