At 77 years of age, Jose Soto is probably the oldest fan following Venezuela in Costa Rica. Soto, who is demanding success from the South American side over the next two weeks, fought hard to find a way to watch his granddaughter, Veronica Herrera, play at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2014.
“It was worth it,” both Soto and Herrera’s mother, Maria del Carmen, told FIFA.com. Work commitments mean Maria will reluctantly return to Venezuela on Sunday, missing the chance to watch her daughter in the quarter-finals. But Soto is planning to stay. “I was the one who showed her how to kick a ball,” he said proudly. “Both she and her brother, who is a goalkeeper like I was.” That brother, Alejandro, was initially a little jealous when Vero was called up for the national team, but now fiercely supports his sister.
“Ay, they broke everything at home,” their mother remembered. But those broken windows no longer matter. Instead, she was overcome by emotion at watching her little girl (one of Venezuela’s youngest players at just 14) during the national anthem on the giant screen before turning out for La Vinotinto in the opening match. “I had a lump in my throat,” she said. “I asked her afterwards how she wasn’t nervous – because the atmosphere was incredible.”
“It’s not easy playing in front of 35,000 people,” added her grandfather, a Galician immigrant born in Betanzos, Spain and who arrived in Venezuela in 1955. But Veronica boasts a strong character and in November 2012, she became the youngest South American player to feature in the Copa Libertadores – at just 12 years old.
“We knew there would be a lot of people up against us, but we took it as if the cheers were in our favour. I think the Costa Rican girls were more pressured than us by those chants. In the end it helped us,” Veronica said after the inaugural match in which her team beat the hosts 3-0 at the Estadio Nacional.
“Having my family in the stands was something special. For me it was a surprise because they told me they couldn’t find a ticket. It was a last-minute thing. It makes me very proud and emotional – and it motivates me to play even better,” added Venezuela’s No2 with a smile. “He’s a grandfather for all of us,” captain Lourdes Moreno added. “We are going to keep working to give more joy to them and to Venezuela, which is enduring difficult moments.”
Proudly wearing Veronica’s Venezuela shirt, her grandpa says only around five people saw the team off as they headed to the airport for the South American championship. “But when they came back as champions, many people did come,” he said, adding: “These girls deserve more support – they are raising the country’s flag very high.”
But Soto is expecting great things from this Vinotinto team. “I have already told them that unless they finish third or better, I won’t have them round,” he said. So the young South American champions will have to work hard to fulfil the expectations of their biggest – and eldest – fan.