The fourth and final side making up Group B is Venezuela. In an entirely CONMEBOL-sourced line-up, Brazil, Paraguay and Ecuador have been drawn with Venezuela, and La Vinotinto will be widely expected to finish bottom of the pile, shipping plenty of goals on the way. César Farías’ side are not; in fact, the lowest ranked outfit in the group (at number 63 they sit a whole one place higher than Ecuador) and will not doubt be hopeful that a series of solid performances can secure them a spot in the quarter-finals (owing to its three-groups-of-four format, the two third placed finishers with the highest points totals will advance to the knockout stages).
Here at the Oval Log we know you’ll be watching every minute of next month’s action and we also understand the importance of being able to impress your mates with the depth of your knowledge on a side they didn’t even know were in the competition. With that in mind, here is a veritable fact-mine on the Venezuelan national side.
History in International Football
While a complete unawareness that Venezuela even have a football team is utterly unforgiveable in our eyes, we will understand if you hesitated for a moment at the mention of their name, delving into the deepest vaults of your memory in a bid to recall something, anything of interest about the South American minnows. The reason for our uncharacteristically lenient approach on this particular issue is that Venezuela have never competed in a World Cup.
On ten separate occasions Venezuela failed to complete the CONMEBOL qualification competition, and on every other they have fallen some way short of the required standard. In the early years it was not uncommon for La Vinotinto to go through an entire qualification competition without a victory, but more recently – since the turn of the millennium in particular – they have improved markedly. In the 1998 qualification process Venezuela amassed a measly three points from sixteen games, but their totals for 2002 and 2006 were sixteen and eighteen points respectively. In the latest campaign they ended up on 22 points, only two behind eventual World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay and easily their best finish to date.
Even in the Pan American games Venezuela have always struggled to compete for honours, and their best finishes of fourth place in the 1951 and ’55 iterations are distant memories. For a country with a population of 30 million inhabitants such footballing anonymity seems incongruous, but upon closer examination its causes are relatively clear to see.
While the rest of South America has taken to football with almost religious fervour since its introduction to the continent,Venezuela has been more reticent, with its sporting spotlight traditionally centred on an American import, baseball. Over the decades this has meant that the majority of Venezuela’s youth in possession of athletic credentials have taken to the baseball field rather than the football pitch. In recent years; however, the increasingly rapid globalisation of football, and particularly its growth in regions where it has always been a minor sport –Japan and America for example – have helped grow its profile inVenezuela and have given the Venezuelan football authorities an incentive to invest more time and resources in the sport.
Copa America Record
Unsurprisingly, Venezuela’s record in the Copa America is also far from stellar. A 5th place finish in 1967 – their debut in the tournament – has not been bettered since, and La Vinotinto typically finish as one of the worst performers in the tournament, having occupied one of the bottom two positions for six consecutive championships between 1993 and 2004.
As highlighted above; however, the national side has undergone something of an upturn in fortunes in recent years, and this has been borne out in their Copa America performances as much as anywhere else. In the last iteration of the tournament, Richard Paez’s Venezuela side topped their group, easing past Boliviain the process, before falling to Uruguay in the last eight. Having enjoyed a relatively successful World Cup qualification campaign Farías’ team will now be hopeful that with some of the bigger sides likely to field slightly weaker sides than those that were on display in qualification, his outfit can go one better and make the last four.
Domestic Game in Venezuela
The Primera División, Venezuela’s top flight, contains eighteen teams and operates in a similar format to the majority of South American leagues, that is to say it consists of an opening, or Apertura stage, and a closing, or Clausura stage. In each stage every team plays every other team once, with separate league tables complied for each half of the season. At the conclusion of the Clausura the two league tables are combined, producing the final standings.
The side who finished atop the Apertura league table then plays a two legged play-off with the side who won the Clausura stage, and the winner of this tie is crowned national champion. Relegation; on the other hand, is decided based solely on the end-of-season standings, with the bottom two sides consigned to the Segunda División.
The modern era has been dominated by Caracas FC who have lifted the trophy on eleven occasions in the last two decades. The capital city club are trailed by Deportivo Táchira who have seven titles to their name, including last season’s, where they beat surprise finalists Zamora.
Although the majority of Venezuela’s squad is likely to consist of domestically-based names, any selection will be scattered liberally with stars who play their club football abroad, namely in European leagues.
Farías is unlikely to have too many tough decisions to make when he selects the players who will represent the nation next month, but it is worth noting that only three of those available for selection have amassed over 50 caps. While a number of players are relatively experienced and have been playing internationally for some years,Venezuela could find themselves overly reliant on a select few who have had tournament experience.
La Vinotinto typically play with a variation on the traditional 4-4-2 and almost all of their goals come from their strikers. Farías likes to pack the centre of the park and with a narrow midfield he is likely to look to his full backs to provide width.
Arguably the most important part of the pitch from a Venezuelan attacking point of view will be the area just behind their strikers. La Vinotinto possess a wealth of talent in the ‘false 10’ bracket and the success of their forwards will depend to a great extent on the supply they receive from the men in ‘the hole’. Juan Arango and Ronal Vargas both play starring roles for clubs in Europe’s top divisions, and the latter has tested himself in the Europa League over recent years.
Players to Watch
As talismanic captain and the most capped Venezuelan ever, José Manuel Rey’s importance cannot be overstated. Having already appeared in a staggering five editions of the Copa America, 36 year-old Rey will certainly know what to expect and should have no problem dealing with the elevated pressures of international tournament football. Rey will line-up in what is expected to be a fairly experienced back four, and his marshalling skills will have to be at their best if Venezuela are to give themselves a chance against the likes of Brazil.
Just as Rey will be tasked with preventing goalscoring opportunities, Juan Arango knows he must create them. The 31 year-old playmaker is captain of the national side and has enjoyed a glittering career in Europe, chiefly at Mallorca but now at Borussia Mönchengladbach. His experience at the highest level should stand him in good stead when faced with the task of finding the gaps in well drilled back lines, and if Venezuela are to have a real go at making the latter stages, they will need some Arango magic.
Leading the line for Venezuela will most likely be Giancarlo Maldonado, but it is his younger team mate José Salomón Rondón who could prove a revelation next month. Aged just 21, Rondón has already played eleven times for his country, scoring four times in the process. With fourteen goals in La Liga this season, the Malaga forward has shown a lot of promise and fans of La Vinotinto will hope that this tournament marks his emergence as a future star.
Twitter - @jbm64