Take another good look at the billboards announcing the biggest football match to happen in India and you will see the Paraguay team’s picture adorning the space that rightly belongs to Venezuela.
Even Venezuela coach Cesar Farias admitted noticing the glaring mistake.
But hailing from a country whose baseball-loving president only recently turned football friendly, Farias, 38, chose to focus on the positives. “We were known as the Cinderella team. We were just two points short of qualifying for last year’s World Cup. But our team has been improving every match. We have qualified for the under-20 World Cup and our players are now playing in the best European leagues,” said Farias at Wednesday’s press conference.
Comfortable with the underdog tag for Friday’s friendly against Argentina, Farias spoke of love for the country and the jersey colours, and how their recent heroics in July’s Copa America unified the country.
“Keeping in mind the (World Cup) qualifiers (Venezuela play Argentina in October), we are giving a lot of importance to Friday’s match. Yes you can’t hide the fact that Lionel Messi is a great player. But it’s a team game and we are keen on improving our strengths,” said Farias, whose team has never played in the Cup finals.
Even the prospect of having 100,000 people screaming for Messi didn’t unnerve Farias. “I expect them to do that. We will play to win the match.”
Venezuela have one advantage though — unlike their counterparts, they have previous experience of playing on artificial turf. “We have some synthetic turfs in our domestic league and so the players know,” said Farias.
Ultimately, Farias, coach of the team for four years now, attributed the success to having a good support staff. “In national teams, we can spend very little time with the players. But it’s important if the coaching staff stay long enough. This is our 61st match. We have known the players since their youth team days so that helps.”