Venezuela: Against TraditionBy: Juan Mesa
Venezuela comes to the Copa América riding the wave of its more successful years in soccer. They surprised the world with a fourth-place finish in the 2011 version of the same tournament, and were five points away from a rematch that could have put them in their first World Cup in Brazil. Their mission in Chile is to prove to the world that they can keep growing as contenders, and they won’t lack the rivals to do so: they fell in Group C, with Brazil, Colombia and Peru.
BIGGEST STRENGTH: La Vinotinto is a mature team with an average age of 28, and six years of working together as a group. It is a technical team on the attack front with captain Juan Arango pulling the strings, and forward Solomón Rondón adding power and speed. Keep an eye on Christian Santos, an unknown striker who just helped NEC get promoted to the Dutch first division with 20+ goals last season.
BIGGEST WEAKNESS: Venezuela believes a good defense is a good attack, to the point that it forgets defenders also need a game plan. They can lose a game even when scoring three or more goals. Coach Noel Sanvicente, who succeeded César Farías, has a lot of work to do in this regard.
COPA AMÉRICA CHANCES: Beating Colombia (something they often do) in the first game of the group stage is key for Venezuela’s ambitions, as it would give them enough confidence to face Peru next. The final group-stage game is against Brazil, a team they kept scoreless in 2011. But if somehow they advance to the quarterfinals, they could make it all the way to the semis of the tournament for the second consecutive time.
FUN FACT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Juan Arango is the arguably the best Venezuelan player ever. He has worn the jersey more than any other player in the history of the country (120+ games) and has become the top scorer with 25 goals. Despite his low profile, he earned respect in Europe after playing with Mallorca and Borussia Mönchengladbach (he took the team to the 2012-2013 Champions League). At some point he was considered the best free-kick taker in the world.
IF THEY WERE A MOVIE, IT WOULD BE: Bend It Like Beckham. Traditionally, Venezuela has been a baseball nation but soccer is on the rise.