Just one CONMEBOL nation has never qualified for a World Cup, but could it soon become 10/10 for South America?
Venezuela are the fifth biggest country on the continent by population – only trailing Peru by just over 100 thousand people, and only Chile and Argentina favour marginally better in GDP per capita. Despite this, the northern coast country has historically found very little success in football.
Outside of sports, things aren’t going fantastically well in Venezuela. The country, despite possessing the World’s largest known oil reserves, struggles with poverty, disease and severe crime.
However, that doesn’t seem to have impacted progression made in the game of football.
The Venezuelans don’t boast a history of well-known players akin to many other South American nations. Their most capped player ever is Juan Arango – who is also the countries second top goal scorer – He spent ten years in Europe between 2004 and 2014, playing for Real Mallorca in Spain and Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany, he managed 129 appearances for his nation.
The national sport in the nation is baseball, with many Venezuelans ending up playing in the MLB in the United States. This has meant, in contrast to many other South American countries, there has often been much less focus, interest and investment of time and money into the game of football.
Salmon Rondon, previously of West Brom and Newcastle, is one of three current internationals in the top ten caps list for the country, playing 80 times and is also the top goalscorer for his homeland with 30 goals.
32-year-old Tomas Rincon who has previously played at Juventus and is now at Turin neighbours Torino is one of the most notable players in Venezuelan football history, achieving 101 caps.
All ten of the highest appearance makers in the nation’s history played the majority, if not all of their career, in the 21st century.
Venezuela have never qualified for a World Cup, in fact they really haven’t ever come that close. The Copa America has been slightly more eventful for the nation, as they’ve managed to get out of the group stages all but one time in the four tournaments between 2007 and 2019 – even finishing fourth in 2011.
Despite this, things have been looking up – after the qualifying campaign for the 1998 World Cup, where Eduardo Borrero couldn’t guide his side to even a single win, the victory column looked a little bit better in following campaigns. 2002, 2006 and 2014 showed five wins and the country even managed six victories in their attempts to make it to the South African edition of the World Cup in 2010.
Unfortunately, the 2018 qualifying campaign was a disaster in comparison as Venezuela finished dead last with just two wins to their name – but other promising signs have the country hoping that was simply a blip on their journey to finally gracing Football’s greatest stage.
As the only CONMEBOL side to never reach the finals of a World Cup, there is added pressure for La vinotinto to finally break their hoodoo.
The biggest signs that improvements could be on the horizon came in 2017, as their Under 20’s side managed to make it all the way to the final of the Under 20’s World Cup in South Korea before succumbing to England by a scoreline of 1-0.
Seven of the starting players in the starting eleven that day were included in the squad last November, the last time the team met up – as they beat Japan 4-1. And another of them had received a senior call-up after the Under 20 final.
Between them they’ve already amassed 75 senior international caps.
Among those that have progressed through the ranks are the likes of Nahuel Ferraresi, Ronald Hernandez, Yangel Herrera and Adalberto Penaranda.
Ferraresi is contracted to Uruguayan club Club Atletico Torque, but they are owned by the same group that operates the likes of Manchester City and New York FC. Infact, Ferraresi has previously trained with City’s Under 23’s and been linked with New York. Many media outlets have credited him as a City player, but he still officially appears to be contracted to Torque.
He’s currently on loan with Porto’s B side, which was seen as a possible pathway to allow the youngster into Europe. His career appears to be stalling slightly at club level, so he will need to make a smart move soon to get maximum game time in the next few years.
Ronald Hernandez is of course the Right-back that Aberdeen acquired from Norwegian club Stabaek in January. He arrived in the Granite City with a lot of hype, not least because of the rumoured six figure fee that the club payed for him. He’s only got on the pitch twice since, not looking particularly impressive.
Although Derek Mcinnes admitted the club rushed the full-back, who was in his off-season in Norway and therefore were working on getting him fully match fit, he’s one of the players most negatively impacted by the early conclusion of the league. He will be expected to take over the starting spot in the team from long-term stalwart Shay Logan next season and may harbour ambitions to use the opportunity to eventually earn a move to England.
Defensive midfielder Yangel Herrera is another contracted to the group that owns Manchester City. He has also been loaned out in order to gain experience. First he spent two seasons with another City group side, MLS team New York City, before spending sixth months with La Liga side Huesca. He stayed in Spain’s top flight this season, after Huesca’s relegation he instead headed to Granada.
The 22-year-old has played a majority of games in a successful season for the newly promoted side. They currently sit 9th and should La Liga resume action for the 19-20 season, they’ll be in with a shot of challenging for European football. They also reached the semi-finals of the Copa Del Rey, with Herrera receiving a lot of credit for his performances. His contract at City is up next month though, but signs do points towards the midfielder being one of the more talented Venezuelan footballers around at the moment.
Adalberto Penaranda is likely the most known of all of Venezuela’s young prospects, although he has some catching up to on some of his teammates achievements at club level. Penaranda has had plenty of hype around him for a few years now. He made his debut in his homeland shortly after his 16th Birthday before being purchased by Udinese in Italy, which of course made him available to Granada and Premier League Watford – owned by the same family.
Much of his hype may come from the fact he has been popular on FIFA and Football Manager, but of course there has been real life talent that has inspired that excitement. Despite spells with all three Pozzo owned clubs, and loans to Malaga and Belgian club Eupen, the 22-year-old is yet to make much of an impact. There is however still a lot of hope that the striker could become a real gem for his country, although he’s yet to score for them in 16 caps.
These younger players will likely be joined by more senior faces like Rincon, Rondon and 81 times capped Leganes defender Roberto Rosales as they attempt to make the 2022 World Cup in Qatar their first. Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez is likely to be another key figure in the attempts to qualify.
Even though it’s possible for half of the ten team qualification group in South America to qualify, should the fifth-placed side win an inter-confederation play-off, it will never be simple to reach the tournament.
The likes of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay are always likely to qualify, since 2002 only one tournament has not seen all three participate. The aging of some Uruguayan players would suggest they’d be the one side likely of the three to drop off.
Colombia will likely be favourites to join those three in the top four, with some decent younger talent as well as big names like James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado and Davidson Sanchez However, it won’t be cut and dry in the same way a country like Argentina or Brazil might do.
Chile didn’t reach the 2018 edition in Russia, and their highly regarded generation with the likes of Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez have reached the tail end of their careers, but the nation will still put up a fight.
Paraguay reached four tournaments in a row between 1998 and 2010, but their current squad don’t appear to be ahead of the Venezuelans, nor does Peru who managed to reach Russia two years ago. Bolivia haven’t participated at a World Cup since 1994 and Ecuador despite reaching all of their 3 tournaments in the 2000’s aren’t particularly star studded.
It would be fair to say La vinotinto won’t expect to qualify via the top three spots, and even fourth spot might be a stretch without a slip up from one of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia. However, Jose Peseiro will feel his team have a chance of nabbing a shot in the play-off in attempts to reach Qatar, and who knows what could follow as football continues to grow in the country.