- Uruguay and Venezuela met twice at U-20 South American championships
- In Korea Republic, both sides reached quarter-finals without conceding a goal
- Fabian Coito, Sergio Cordova and Ronald Hernandez looking forward to an exciting match
“So is it the ideal semi-final for you?” Ronald Hernandez’s face lit up at the question put to him by FIFA.com. “You bet it is,” came the reply, voiced with a real sense of enthusiasm. “We know each other a lot. We’ve played each other recently and we’ve been watching them all the time. It’s going to be a typical South American match. You couldn’t ask for more for a World Cup semi-final.”
A plain speaker, the incisive Venezuela right-back could hardly be more enthusiastic about the first semi-final of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017, in which La Vinotinto will take on Uruguay in Daejeon on Thursday.
“It’s going to be a pretty tough match,” said his team-mate Sergio Cordova. “We have a lot of respect for each other. It’s a South American clásico.” While some of the continent’s football purists would argue that there are other rivalries with a bigger billing, Cordova, who is one of the leading scorers at Korea Republic 2017, has very good reasons for describing the match in those terms.
The two nations faced off twice at the U-20 South American Championships and have also played out some classic encounters in recent FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaigns. Both sides also made it through to the last eight of Korea Republic 2017 without conceding.
Explaining why Thursday’s tie promises to be a thrilling encounter, Uruguay coach Fabian Coito said: “There’s the pace the two teams play at, the emotional importance of the game for us, and the individual qualities of the players, who have vital and potentially match-winning contributions to make for both sides. Sometimes you come up against teams whose qualities as a unit outweigh what any individual can offer.”
That is not the case here. While both sides have been shaped by their recent past and respect for each other, the fact is that they each possess players who bring their own unique touches to their collective strengths. Since the nations’ two meetings in Ecuador in January (a 0-0 draw in the first round and a comprehensive 3-0 win for La Vinotinto in the final phase), two players have made major strides in their respective games, having missed out on the South American qualifiers: Federico Valverde of Uruguay and Venezuela’s Adalberto Penaranda.
“They have a more dynamic midfield with Valverde and that’s allowed [Rodrigo] Bentancur to play a more attacking role. It’s a plus point for them,” said Hernandez, who also had praise for his team-mate: “Penaranda is a very important player. He gives us an extra dimension because he’s different. He’s had a different career path to us. He’s played in the World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay in Montevideo, and he’s played in the Spanish league. He’s very powerful up front.”
The man they call Peña is a major reason why Venezuela are the top scorers in the competition with 13 goals – seven more than La Celeste – the kind of attacking strength that was not so much in evidence in the qualifiers. In terms of defence, however, the two rivals are more evenly matched.
“They get stuck in, they run and they never give up,” said the admiring Cordova of Venezuela’s next opponents. Coito is equally impressed by Cordova and Co: “We couldn’t score against them in two matches and that tells you something. They’ve maintained that defensive solidity here too, though I do have an awful lot of confidence in my players.”
With so little to choose between the two outfits, set-pieces could prove decisive. Both sides have scored three goals from dead-ball situations so far at Korea Republic 2017. “We’re both pretty good at them,” said Hernandez. “It’s a trademark of Uruguay’s, while we’ve had to work hard on them. They’ve gone well for us here and it’s going to be a key area.”
“May the best team win,” said all three interviewees. Who that team is will be revealed on Thursday.