Venezuela’s surprise run to the Copa America semi-finals earlier this year was the culmination of three years of positive progress. Once regarded as South American football’s whipping boys, La Vinotinto climbed from the bottom of the ladder to within touching distance of the podium in Argentina, and now have their sights set on the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
It has been a story of slow but steady progress for Venezuela, who finally appear to be reaching maturity on the international stage. They reached the last 16 of the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2009 – their first ever FIFA tournament – and it has been onwards and upwards ever since. “We’re a talented group and we should fancy our chances,” former Caracas FC midfielder Ronald Vargas told FIFA.com.
Vargas moved to Belgium three years ago, where he now plies his trade for Anderlecht in the country’s top flight. The midfielder, who missed the recent Copa America through injury, forms part of a bright new generation of Venezuelan footballers, along with young talents such as Salomon Rondon and Yohandry Orozco. Unlike the latter pair, however, Vargas’s chances to shine have been limited by two lengthy lay-offs since his arrival in Europe.
“I’m hoping to make the most of the qualifiers and establish myself in the team, but it’s going to be a long journey,” said Vargas. “I’m coming back from injury and I’m only just starting to regain my physical fitness.” Vargas netted 15 times for former employers Club Brugge in the first half of last season, lighting up the Belgian championship before suffering his injury.
The Venezuelan has since returned to action and is relishing his side’s Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign. As far as the team’s approach is concerned, Vargas’s message is clear: “We have to treat every match like a cup final. Mental strength and motivation will make the difference, more so than our physical condition or technique.”
Venezuela are the only team in South America never to have reached a FIFA World Cup finals, and they will no doubt be aiming to put that right by building on their historic run to the Copa America semi-finals. With several key players now based in Europe and with Caracas FC reaching the Copa Liberadores quarter-finals in 2009, Venezuela now looks anything but a nation that has lost a record 74 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
La Vinotinto lost just eight matches in their South Africa 2010 qualifying campaign, finishing a mere two points behind Uruguay to narrowly miss out on a place in the play-offs. Determined to build on the promise shown in the South Africa 2010 preliminaries, Venezuela have since pulled out all the stops to achieve their current status as rising stars of South American football.
As Vargas explained, the impressive showing at the Copa America is just the first step for Venezuela’s new generation. “This group has a lot of scope for progression and the Copa America mustn’t become an isolated success,” he said. Venezuela travel to Ecuador for their opening Brazil 2014 qualifier, but Vargas is not unduly worried about kicking off the campaign away from home. “Ultimately, we will need to get points from our away matches and look to win at home,” he explained.
Four days after their curtain-raiser in Quito, Cesar Farias’s men host Argentina in Puerto la Cruz. In the absence of Brazil, the Albiceleste start as strong favourites in what is sure to be a very open qualifying section. “Without Brazil, all of the teams will be even more motivated,” said Vargas. Having waited until 1982 for their maiden qualifying victory, Venezuela will now be determined to reach world football’s showpiece event for the very first time.
With Farias at the helm, Vargas and Co have already shown some encouraging signs of potential. The Venezuelan fans would love nothing more than to cheer on their team at Brazil 2014, and if La Vinotinto continue in this positive vein, there is no reason why that dream should not become a reality