Venezuela Finally Making Name For Itself In Tough
The Socceroos historic encounter with Venezuela on Thursday is the latest step in showing off the Socceroo brand worldwide. The same can be said for Venezuela, who after many years in the wilderness of the CONMEBOL confederation are finally starting to show they can play football.
The Socceroos historic encounter with Venezuela on Thursday is the latest step in showing off the Socceroo brand worldwide. The same can be said for Venezuela, who after many years in the wilderness of the CONMEBOL confederation are finally starting to show they can play football. Names like Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Brett Emerton and Mark Schwarzer are well respected in international football communities, but Venezuela-s stars, the likes of Juan Arango, Daniel Noriega, Jose Manuel Rey and Alejandro Cichero feature far less prominently in world football headlines. The mere thought of Venezuela being a force in world football was unheard of all of four years ago, but steady progress, particularly in the latter stages of the 2002 World Cup qualifiers have seen the Vinotinto (Red Wine) shrug off their tag as the easy beats of FIFA-s toughest confederation. Some say that Venezuela is unfortunate to be a part of the highly competitive CONMEBOL confederation in the first place. Hailing from the far north tip of South America, the Vinotinto made their international debut in 1938 under the banner of CONCACAF, but changed to their present situation in 1958. Since then, Venezuela has struggled to make in impact in a confederation dominated by super powers. The Vinotinto are the only member of CONMEBOL-s ten countries to have never participated at a World Cup final competition. With a population of around 24 million, Venezuela can put their lack of success on the international stage down to their nations devotion to Baseball. Playing in a Maroon top with White shorts and socks, the Venezuelan-s have, it is fair to say, an poor record at international level, seldom winning World Cup qualifying matches or Copa America games, despite competing regularly. But, to their credit, this has all changed in recent years. Current coach Richard Paez has transformed the perennial underdogs of South America into giant killers and now, more than ever, the Vinotinto have a realistic chance of qualifying for the World Cup. The start of their campaign for Germany 2006 has been promising. After suffering defeat at the hands of Argentina (0-3) and Ecuador (0-2) in the opening rounds, Venezuela turned their campaign around with two memorable victories. The first being a stellar 1-0 win away to Colombia, amazingly, only their second ever qualifying victory away from home. Arango was the hero that day, netting in the opening minutes to open the Vinotinto account in what is a very trying qualification route. If the Colombian upset stirred the national pride of Venezuela, the follow up win over Bolivia three days later sent it to boiling point. Two injury time goals to Rey and that man again - Arango, sealed a dramatic come from behind 2-1 win for Venezuela and moved them to fifth position after four rounds in the CONMEBOL standings. Of course, we all know what fifth place means! Venezuela now teeter on the edge of automatic qualification for Germany 2006, although with 14 games still remaining, the challenge to stay there is immense. Paez is yet to name his squad for the clash, but it is expected that the Vinotinto will not experience the same troubles the Socceroos are dealing with at present. A full strength squad is anticipated to front at the Estadio Olimpico in Caracas for what will be the Vinotinto-s final preparation before their qualification campaign re-ignites with a clash away to Uruguay on March 30. An injury cloud hangs over their star striker Arango, who plies his trade in the Mexican Clausura with Pachuca. Although the Venezuelan squad is predominantly home based, there are a few who base themselves elsewhere. Gabriel Urdaneta plays for Lucerne in Switzerland, Jonay Hernandez plays for Dundee in the Scottish Premier League, striker Massimo Margiotta plays for Paul Okon-s former club Vicenza in the Serie B and Alexander Brown is with the LA Galaxy in the United States. Aside from this, many of the other overseas-based players remain on the South American continent, playing in the Uruguayan and Argentinean leagues. Those who play in Venezuela regularly hail from traditional powerhouses Caracas FC and Deportivo Tachira. Thursday mornings clash with Australia will be Venezuela-s first of 2004, having fronted for twelve matches in 2003. Apart from the World Cup qualifying wins, highlights included victories over Jamaica, Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as a credible 1-0 loss to African giants Nigeria in Watford. Since 2001 the Vinotinto have lost just once at home in 13 matches, that being late last year to Argentina in the opening home match of their 2006 World Cup qualification campaign. Indeed, the men in maroon have come a far way since the days of five and six nil drubbings. Just how far? The Socceroos will find out on Thursday.