• Ronaldo Lucena was one of Venezuela’s best performers in the final
  • Midfielder struck the post from a free-kick and gave a towering performance
  • Lucena looking forward with pride: “This could be a springboard for Qatar 2022”

Proud of his day’s work, Ronaldo Lucena wore a look of sadness on his face, a sadness tempered by the fact that he knew he had given his all. Though the cheers from the England dressing room could be heard in the background, the midfielder was not about to let his head drop just because Venezuela’s trophy dreams had been shattered. From his neck hung the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017 runners-up medal he had collected a few minutes earlier. And he had no intention of taking it off.

“I’m going away a proud man. That’s why I’ve kept it on,” he told FIFA.com in the tunnel at the Suwon World Cup Stadium. “I’ve worked very hard to get here. Nobody’s handed me anything on a plate in getting this far. I’ve made it by working hard and staying grounded. It’ll be a nice souvenir for me when I get home to Venezuela.”

Lucena and his compatriots will go away with memories of a match in which they rose to the occasion, no one more so than he. Probably his side’s best player on the day, he distributed the ball intelligently with a minimum of fuss, helped his side maintain their shape and pluged the gaps when they were forced to chase the game.

“We’re going away with a bitter taste in our mouths, but that’s football,” he added. “It wasn’t bad luck. That’s just the way things go. God rewarded us with a place in this final and we worked very hard to get here. We gave our all on the pitch and we all battled till the very end. It didn’t work out but we made history for Venezuela. We’ve been following what people have been saying online and we’ve seen the videos, and we’re aware of what we’ve achieved.”

Lucena acknowledged that they struggled to get into the game in the first half and to cope with the pace of England’s play. He came closest to scoring for his side, hitting the post with a majestic free-kick struck almost from the centre circle, an audacious attempt that showcased his skill and vision.

“The coach told me to keep an eye out because the keeper was well off his line,” he explained. “And when he stopped me, I looked and saw that he was. When I ran up I took short steps to make it look as if I was going to put it in the box but my intention was to shoot on goal.” When England keeper Freddie Woodman realised what was happening, it was already too late, though he made every effort to get to the ball with a superb dive. Lucena’s effort struck the post, however, and bounced away to safety.

That near-miss came before Dominic Calvert-Lewin put England into the lead, with Venezuela stepping up their game considerably after the restart. “We had more of the ball and created a few chances but none of them went in, unfortunately,” explained Lucena. “When all’s said and done, though, we did well and we can go away happy.”

As he went on to say, it was Rafael Dudamel’s half-time team talk that triggered La Vinotinto’s second-half improvement. “He asked each of us how we felt and if we thought the game was over. He said it was only half-time and that it was only one goal. He reminded us that it was a final, that it wasn’t a game you get to play every day, and that this was our last tournament with the U-20s. That really pumped us up for the second half.”

Venezuela head home as runners-up and as the tournament’s highest scorers with 14 goals, all of which has Lucena believing that they can look forward to a bright future: “We gave a really good account of ourselves in every department.”

It is a future that could well see Venezuela qualifying for the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time at Qatar 2022: “That’s what the coach tells us in every team talk, that this story has only just begun. This could be a springboard for us to make the next World Cup.”