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Burgundy army set to charm

Football though was very much an afterthought for the tiny South American country where baseball is a preferred sport. Despite the lack of serious interest, Venezuela's domestic football league turned professional in 1957. Somshuvra Laha reports. Stat speak

sports Updated: Aug 30, 2011 01:18 IST
Somshuvra Laha

If beauty and oil top the world's most sought-after list, Venezuela will pass the mark with distinction. The former Spanish colony has produced five Miss Worlds, six Miss Universes, six Miss Internationals and one Miss Earth till date. And they have the world's biggest oil stocks that have a reserve life of 275 years.

Football though was very much an afterthought for the tiny South American country where baseball is a preferred sport. Despite the lack of serious interest, Venezuela's domestic football league turned professional in 1957. But it was not until 1967 that Venezuela gained international exposure.

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That was when Venezuela competed in the Copa America for the first time and straightaway finished fifth. Since then they hovered between the 10th and 12th positions till in 2007, Venezuela hosted the competition for the first time.

Reaching their maiden quarter-finals that too in front of the home crowd led to the growing popularity of football. A huge following has emerged since, led by their maverick president Hugo Chavez who constantly kept in touch with the La Vinotinto (nickname meaning 'The Burgundy' after the colour of their jersey) through Twitter during a dream Copa America this year that saw an unbeaten Venezuela reach the semi-finals. En route, they held Brazil goalless and shocked Chile 2-1 in the quarterfinal.

The eventual ouster handed by Paraguay following a thrilling semifinal shootout didn't break their spirits though. For your information, Argentina, 14-time winners, exited in the quarter-final. While lavishing praise on his team for a great show, Chavez insisted they were 'robbed'.

Coach Cesar Farias's evaluation was more moderate. "I don't want to do them down but Paraguay were incredibly lucky," he said. "But we go home with our heads held high."

Within a decade, football in Venezuela has zoomed from almost zero to something substantial. Seventeen of the 23 players selected to play Argentina in Kolkata on Friday are Europe based, with some of them representing top clubs like Italy's Udinese and Spain's Athletic Bilbao. Leading midfielder Juan Arango has played for La Liga side Mallorca and has 100 international caps.

Despite the improvements, Venezuela are yet to make the cut for the World Cup and the only South American nation still suffering the ignominy.

Argentine coach Sabella arrives
After an arduous 33-hour journey from Buenos Aires, a 19-member Argentina management team, led by chief coach Alejandro Sabella, landed here early morning. The only player among the arrivals was goalkeeper Esteban Andrada.

The remaining players, most of them based in Europe, will arrive in two batches on Tuesday.