Football has a knack of throwing up unlikely love affairs, and the flourishing liaison between Fernando Amorebieta and Venezuela is more unusual than most. A virtual unknown in the land of his birth just a few months ago, the Athletic Bilbao defender is now a hero to Vinotinto fans, having scored the goal that gave the eternal South American also-rans their first ever FIFA World Cup™ qualifying win over Argentina earlier this month.
With memories of that historic header still fresh and the excitement it generated yet to die down, FIFA.com sought out the popular central defender for an exclusive chat about his links with Venezuela and their dream of reaching the world finals for the first time.
Though La Vinotinto’s latest recruit spent only the first two years of his life in Venezuela and speaks with a typical Basque accent, he considers himself just as much of a patriot as his new national team colleagues.
As he explained, his ties with the South American nation are steeped in sport: “Both my parents are Basque, and my father was a professional jai-alai player who competed in the USA before moving to Venezuela, where I was born. I only lived there for two and a half years, though, because my mother decided to go back home.”
Growing up on the other side of the Atlantic, Amorebieta had little contact with Venezuela in the years that followed. Though his older brother had some recollection of life in that faraway exotic land, for the player himself it is all a blank.
“To be honest I don’t remember anything from that time,” he recalled. “Up until recently I’d only ever been back once and that was a short visit with the Basque national team for a friendly match.”
Yet, when the call came Amorebieta had no doubts about pulling on the claret jersey: “I always wanted to play for Venezuela. When I was 20 I met Cesar Farias, who was working for the national FA at the time and is now the national team coach, and I’ve always told him I wanted to play for La Vinotinto.”
Like any true romance, however, player and country encountered many an obstacle before finally coming together. “I’d played a few games for Spain at youth level and the rules at the time said I couldn’t play for another national side," he revealed. "So, when I later got the call from the full Spanish team I decided to go along, though I didn’t get a game. However, a few months later they changed the rules and Farias rang me, but then it was my club who wouldn’t let me go. After many years I eventually got the chance to live out the dream I’d had for so long.”
A match made in heaven
Having waited so patiently for it to begin, Amorebieta’s Venezuelan tryst could hardly have started in better fashion, the player making his first official appearance in the recent Brazil 2014 qualifier against Argentina and scoring the goal that brought La Vinotinto a maiden win over their illustrious opponents.
“My idea was to get in a dangerous position before the ball came over,” he said, reliving that magical moment. “When I saw the cross coming in I knew I had to get in front of [Marcos] Rojo, which I managed to do, though I’ve no idea how I got my head to it or it how it went in. All I can remember is the fans exploding with delight and me wanting to run and celebrate.”
Understandably nervous at his baptism of fire in South American football, Amorebieta spoke of his relief that everything went alright on the night: “I was a bit uptight before kick-off because there was a really big crowd. I was worried about having a bad game because I really wanted to show the fans I was going to give my all for them. Luckily it all went well, and my Twitter page was full of congratulatory messages the next day.”
After a start like that, it is little wonder to hear Venezuela’s new hero tipping the side for a place at Brazil 2014. “There’s only one objective and that’s to reach the World Cup,” he said. “We’ve got the ability to do it and we’re a tough team with the necessary experience behind us. I can definitely see myself there with my team-mates, making history. And I’m sure that’s what we’re going to do.”