Where Venezuela fall short in their bid for a World Cup spot

The coach of a football team has three basic tasks; select the team, determine the strategy and establish the emotional tone in which the work takes place.


Venezuela remain the only CONMEBOL country to have never qualified for a World Cup final tournament. Source: Getty Images

In practice, of course, the three are related. Let us imagine, for example, a team set up to deliver crosses, but without a penalty area presence to get on the end of them. In that case, the strategy is incompatible with the team. This will clearly be apparent to the players, who will lose confidence in the methods of the coach, thus leading to a rapid deterioration in the team’s emotional sprit.

Something like this may well have taken place in the Venezuelan national team. The one South American country who have never made it to a World Cup, over recent years the country’s football has improved to such an extent that qualification is no longer seen as an impossible dream. 

Indeed, when they beat Argentina near the start of the 2014 qualifiers, there was a real feeling that they were on the way to making their World Cup debut. They tailed off in the end and finished five points off the play-off place – which looks like a missed opportunity. 

An extra place was available that time because Brazil qualified automatically as hosts. Now they are back in the field things have got harder – and even after just four rounds of the current qualifiers it is very hard to see Venezuela qualifying for Russia 2018.

A problem in the 2014 campaign was a lack of goals – just 14 in 16 games, less than any other side. Coach Cesar Farias was inclined to caution. His replacement Noel Sanvicente sees things differently.

“The Venezuelan national team were playing one way and I prefer another,” he said. 

His methods have put more emphasis on aggression.  But since he took over, the team have been leaking goals.

A big part of the problem is a lack of defensive pace.  His back four have grown old together.  A bolder gameplan, one that forces them higher up the pitch, has left them exposed.

The warning signs were flashing even before the current World Cup qualification campaign got underway last October.

A month earlier, the country’s best player Juan Arango announced his retirement from international football. The timing seemed strange, was it an indication that all was not right in the camp?

There have been plenty such indications since. Venezuela have lost all four of their qualifiers, conceding 11 goals in the process. 

Middlesbrough defender Fernando Amorebieta announced that he would no longer play for the national team under the current coach. In a post-match press conference Sanvicente muttered darkly about a lack of support.

Late in November the Venezuelan FA president Laureano Gonzalez gave an interview where he claimed that the players were conspiring to get rid of the coach. Between the lines, the hint was that they were losing games on purpose.

The players waited a few days for Sanvicente to come to their defence. When this did not happen, 15 of them, including all the leading names, published a letter dismissing the claims as “totally false,” and registering their “big disappointment with the lack of support of the coaching staff in the face of these accusations.” 

The players called for wholesale changes in the Venezuelan FA.  Were they declaring a boycott of the national team if these changes did not take place?  This was not 100% clear. Could Sanvicente carry on in these conditions? It seemed unlikely, but he has yet to resign.

Instead he spent the last few days on a Dr Henry Kissinger style diplomatic trip.  He travelled to Europe for face to face meetings with the key players – centre back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, central midfielder Tomas Rincon, and, most important of all, star centre forward Salomon Rondon.

The Venezuelan FA issued a statement saying that the meetings had taken place “in a climate of cordiality” – the kind of language usually reserved for diplomatic crises, and Sanvicente was non-comital on his return home. 

“They were good conversations,” he said, “with transparency and sincerity.” But it is not clear yet whether these players are prepared to continue representing the national team under the current regime.  All will be revealed by the end of March, when Venezuela take on Peru and Chile in the next two rounds of qualifiers.

In the meantime, a friendly on Tuesday at home to Costa Rica takes on extra importance. Sanvicente has called up a 23 man squad, all but two of whom are based at home.  It looks like Venezuela’s reserves. But it could become the first team if agreement has not been reached with the established stars.

The only potential plus side is that the squad to face Costa Rica is full of young players. With Russia 2018 already looking very difficult, at least this is a chance for Venezuela to build for the long term, and find a selection and a strategy which are compatible with each other, thus improving the emotional tone in the dressing room and allowing the national team to resume its progress.

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5 min read
Published 30 January 2016 at 1:05pm
By Tim Vickery