Respect. That is the word that Venezuela full-back Roberto Rosales is most proud of hearing when the subject of his national side’s status in South American football comes up for discussion. The FC Twente man has seen La *Vinotinto’s *stock rise in the global game as they have gone from makeweights to genuine contenders with designs on big things.
Their latest dream is to qualify for their first FIFA World Cup™ at Brazil 2014, one that could well take shape if they win their next two qualifiers against Peru and Paraguay. “People have been looking at us differently in the last ten years,” Rosales, the first Venezuelan player to score in the UEFA Champions League, told FIFA.com.
Fast-tracked from the U-20 set-up to the full national team in 2007 and having now won 35 caps, the 23-year-old is under no illusions as to the task ahead of the 2011 Copa America semi-finalists.
“We had some very intense preparations before our win against Argentina,” explained the former Gent player, who came to prominence with Caracas at the age of 19. “We’d worked hard and everyone was on the same wavelength. If we’re going to reach Brazil, though, we need to stick at it and keep on improving.
“People’s expectations have changed and that’s understandable. They expect more of us and they get more and more excited when they follow us. That generates responsibilities, something we’re aware of much more than before. All the same, it’s not a burden or an extra weight for us. It’s an honour.”
With nearly half of the side playing their club football in Europe, where they are regulars in their teams, Cesar Farias' Venezuela have already stepped up a level on the South American scene.
People’s expectations have changed and that’s understandable. They expect more of us and they get more and more excited when they follow us.
The task now to maintain the momentum, as Jose Salomon Rondon pointed out in an interview withFIFA.comback in June: “We got here by keeping our feet on the ground and we need to keep it that way.”
Three months on, Rosales echoes those words. “The main lesson we’ve learned over the last year is never to give up. Anything's possible when you want it and when you’ve got all the resources at your disposal. We need to maintain that mindset and the desire to keep pushing on, to give our all for our country.”
The only CONMEBOL side never to have graced the world finals, Venezuela are now banking on an exciting new breed of youngsters, veterans of the team that reached the last 16 at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009. And having outperformed both Bolivia and Peru in the last two FIFA World Cup qualifying competitions, La Vinotinto know full well that patience is a virtue when it comes to pursuing your goals.
“Any young player who leaves Venezuela at an early age knows the value of patience,” said Rosales, who made only 15 league appearances in his first season in Europe. “My first year there was very tough because I didn’t play a lot. The important thing for me was not to let my head drop, keep on believing and learn to adapt my game. I needed to earn the confidence of the coach and my team-mates.”
The support of his nearest and dearest was also vital to him making a go of things on the other side of the Atlantic: “Without my family I’d maybe have gone back home. Luckily for me they always gave me good advice.”
As he went on to explain, his experiences in Belgium stood him in good stead: “I didn’t think twice about signing for Gent. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to become a better player and grow as a person. Playing in Europe was a dream of mine, even if it wasn’t very easy to begin with.”
Rosales’ determination and perseverance eventually won him a Belgian Cup winner’s medal under Michel Preud’homme in 2010 and earned him a move to Twente that summer. It is those selfsame qualities that are driving a Vinotinto side that is finally daring to dream.