Venezuelan football has been on the up for some time now. First there was their impeccable hosting of the 2007 Copa America. Then came promising displays in the qualifying phase of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ and an excellent performance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009, where they upset the odds to reach the Round of 16.
The latest feat for Vinotinto football followers to celebrate came in February of this year, when their nation finished third at the South American Women’s U-17 Championship in Brazil. This impressive result ensured the CONMEBOL representatives will appear at their first-ever edition of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, which is set to kick off in Trinidad and Tobago on 5 September. “For me, what we achieved was no surprise,” said coach Kenneth Zseremeta to FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
The 38-year-old Panamanian supremo, who has been at the helm for the past 18 months, went on to say: “It’s a question of being given time and space: there’s a structure in place where you start working with a U-15 squad, then the U-17s and the U-20s, before reaching the senior side. Players are scouted, national tournaments are held. Putting all this in place took around four years, and qualifying for this event is the result of all that hard work.”
Zseremeta, not for the first time in the conversation, stressed that there was more to participating in the upcoming event than meets the eye. “We’re a product of the progress made by many countries in our part of the world, such as Colombia and Chile, among others. We have a commitment to South America, which in turn creates a responsibility in that we can’t represent our country and continent on the world stage and end up being beaten at every opportunity.”
Opponents and objectives
The Venezuelans have been placed in a challenging Group C, where they will have to overcome a powerful Japan side, plus New Zealand, hosts of the inaugural tournament two years ago, and Spain -another team making their debut in the competition. “The Japanese, by virtue of their experience and world ranking, should be considered group favourites, but after that, there’s not an awful lot between the remaining sides,” said Zseremeta, before going on to look at his charges’ chances in greater detail.
“An opening match against New Zealand is the best possible outcome for us; because we’re regarded as the weakest team in the group, the encounter will immediately give us an idea of what we’re capable of. How we approach our second fixture against Japan will be dictated by our first result. If we take something from the first game, we’ll need to play in a very intelligent fashion in order to get what we need to qualify, as they’re a very strong side. Against Spain, however, we believe there’s not much to choose between us, and that the match could go either way.”
As far as the team’s objectives are concerned, the coach is clear and concise: “Out of the 16 teams taking part, we consider ourselves 16th in terms of experience, so obtaining any kind of positive result or qualifying for the next round would be a tremendous achievement. We are also looking towards the future – we certainly don’t want this to be a one-off appearance at this event.”
Venezuela are now reaching the final stages of their pre-tournament preparations, after having faced the full sides of Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador, as well as some male teams. “On the one hand, we’ve been trying to get across certain tactical concepts to the players, so that everyone knows what they’re doing, and I think that we’ve managed that pretty well. But now we’re also trying to change things about a little, preparing for and imagining situations where our opponents force us to switch tactics. It’s a good balance,” explained Zseremeta.
The Panamanian coach also gives short shrift to the idea that his players’ inexperience at this level puts more pressure on their young shoulders. “Because of their age, they all have a certain level of naivety that allows them to deal relatively easily with a big event of this type, even if they are aware that with their participation comes a clear responsibility. They may experience fear at any point during a match, such as after letting in a goal, for example, but they are not afraid of taking part in the tournament as a whole. On the personal side of things, I don’t doubt that there will be many worries along the way, but overall the experience will help them to develop socially.”
When asked if Venezuela could follow the lead of Colombia, fourth at the recent FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, by becoming the surprise team of the tournament, Zseremeta’s answer was conclusive: “In global competitions such as this one, teams always carry a lot of baggage relating to expectations, history and previous performance, but at the end of the day there will always be unexpected factors that come into play. I don’t necessarily go along with this idea that we are a total long shot. We’ll give every other team the utmost respect, but we’re not going there to make up the numbers. We’ll certainly have nothing to reproach ourselves about, I can assure you of that.”