Venezuela go from strength to strength
© AFP

Unquestionably, the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking is a good indicator of the progress or otherwise of a national team. Anyone in doubt need only look at Venezuela who, on the strength of an historic fourth-placed finish at the recent Copa America, jumped 29 places last month to an all-time high of 40th.

Hitherto, Venezuela’s highest ranking had been 47th, a position they occupied during February, July and August of 2010. Moreover, their 29-place rise last month was their biggest single-month gain since the Ranking was created, second only to a jump of 31 places in August 1993. Indeed, no other country made greater gains than La Vinotinto in the most recent edition of the Ranking.

Cesar Farias’ side picked up a sizeable number of ranking points for their Copa America victories over Ecuador, 1-0 in the group phase, and Chile, 2-1 in the quarter-finals, as well as draws with 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ participants Brazil and Paraguay, both of whom are ranked above them.

With just two months to go until the South American qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil kick off, Venezuela have become the seventh-highest ranked CONMEBOL side (of the ten sides in the region) for the first time since January this year. Their opening fixture in the Preliminary Competition, which entitles the region to 4.5 finals berths and will not feature Brazil, who qualify automatically as hosts, will be away to Ecuador.

Clear objectives and unstinting effort
When Farias officially took charge on 1 January 2008, Venezuela were down in 59th place. Since then, the South American side have appeared in the top-50 on ten occasions, punctuated by a slide to 67th in June 2010, their lowest ranking of Farias’ tenure.

This should be our World Cup.
Venezuela coach Cesar Farias ahead of the Brazil 2014 qualifiers

Understandably the coach is very upbeat about the future, as he expressed to FIFA.com in April this year: “Right from the day I took over I felt that we had a real chance of making it to the last World Cup, and we didn’t fall too far short. But in the back of my mind throughout was the importance of making sure everything was right going into these qualifiers. This should be our World Cup.”

Venezuela’s unprecedented performance at the Copa America in Argentina, where their two wins matched their cumulative tally from all previous editions, has led to Farias setting the bar even higher – to the point of saying that qualification for their maiden FIFA World Cup is now “an obligation”. Though an ambitious statement of intent, it is worth noting that the country has not been outside the top 100 in the Ranking since October 2001.

And but for Lady Luck, La Vinotinto’s lofty ranking could have been even higher. Before losing out in the Copa America semis to Paraguay on penalties, Farias’ charges hit the woodwork no fewer than three times. “A centimetre the other way or a fraction lower on the crossbar was all we needed,” the coach lamented on his return to Venezuela last month.

“We had a very settled team and came so close. We dominated against Paraguay but didn’t quite make it. Perhaps we committed the sin of paying too much respect to our rivals, but that’s a hurdle we’ll be looking to overcome in the upcoming qualifiers,” he added.

If those lessons can be learned and that momentum taken into the Brazil 2014 qualifiers, who is to say Venezuela’s star will not rise even further?