Four years ago, Venezuela surprised the world of women’s football by qualifying for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup 2010 in Trinidad and Tobago. No women’s football team from Venezuela had previously qualified for a World Cup at any level, so that success proved a genuine sporting landmark for the South American country.
And though Venezuela were unable to make it beyond the group stage and failed to qualify for the tournament’s next edition at Azerbaijan 2012, La Vinotinto are now set to return. Indeed, they will do so in some style, having claimed the South American U-17 Women's Championship - held in Paraguay - for the first time.
“None of this has happened by chance,” coach Kenneth Zseremeta told FIFA.com, on Venezuela returning to the world stage at Costa Rica 2014 as South American champions. “We have been among the region's best four or five teams at this level for some time.
"It’s no longer the case that Venezuela are there because this team didn’t do well or because that team slipped up," added the 45-year-old Panamanian, who has been working with the Vinotinto youngsters since 2009. "We have the support of the Federation and we are doing things the right way,”
Continuity and collective strength
Zseremeta believes there are several factors behind the success of his side during the continental competition: “We’ve had continuity and we have a direct team which was decisive in attack but which also knew how to defend,” he said. “The team’s strength is in its togetherness and in having versatile players.”
The statistics support his argument: Venezuela were the only unbeaten team in the South American competition, with six wins and just one draw – against Brazil in the group stages. Despite that result, La Vinotinto still came top of their sector, before going on to finish the competition with the most effective attack (24 goals) and the joint-best defence (seven goals conceded).
Venezuela kick off their U-17 Women's World Cup campaign against Costa Rica and Zseremeta, a keen admirer of Sweden coach Pia Sundhage, claims his side’s tournament could largely hinge upon their debut versus the hosts.
“It will be like a final and the stadium will be full,” he said. “But I’m not worried by the pressure, because in Paraguay there were 16,000 people in the stadium when we played for the title and we achieved a resounding [7-1] victory [over the hosts]. The girls have got any stage fright they may have had out of their system.”
Feet on the ground
Italy and Zambia are the remaining teams in Group A, a section Zseremeta describes as “very competitive”. “It’s open and all four teams have a chance,” he said. “Our objective will be to beat Costa Rica and to look to get through the group. At the moment we can’t focus on anything else,” added the coach.
“The success of this team arrived after the senior [men’s] side missed out on qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil," explained Zseremeta, whose background is in the sciences and who never played the game professionally, on why caution is a must ahead of Costa Rica 2014.
"The girls then received a national award [Editor's note: the U-17s were chosen as Venezuela’s national team of the year for 2013] and it suddenly seemed that girls of just 14 or 15 had become the flag-bearers for Venezuelan football. That’s not fair: they shouldn’t feel obliged to do what the men couldn't.”
So despite all the positive signs, the Panamanian is not taking anything for granted, and hopes his players will not either. “We know who we are, but we also know where Venezuela stand in the context of women’s football and at what stage of development the game here is at.
"Our qualifying campaign was very good, but the World Cup is a different matter," he concluded. "We’ll go there with confidence thanks to the preparation we've put in, but we won't think ourselves above anybody. Any other approach would make us lose sight of what we've achieved.”