By Jake Entwistle (@JakeEntwistle)
Venezuela hold the unwanted record of being the only CONMEBOL side never to qualify for a World Cup. But, with the success of their U20 side in South Korea this summer, the next generation of burgundy-wearing talent look set to write another chapter in the country's history.
The international break is often an unwelcome guest. The football season reaches a climax only for an intermission to halt all excitement for two weeks. An advert for upcoming tournaments, these games cannot be fast-forwarded.
However, with youth football gaining more and more prevalence in the discussion, excitement is built around the appearance of individual players rather than the performance of the collective. Kylian Mbappé turns heads for France, Marcus Rashford wakes England fans from their qualifying-induced slumber, and Joshua Kimmich continues as a permanent fixture for Germany.
Their is one national team, however, that has combined both.
Venezuela are not famous for their footballing pedigree but under Rafael Dudamel they are quickly becoming a Scouted Football favourite.
48% of his most recent 31-man squad are Scouted eligible. Of these 15 U23 players, nine of them featured in the history-making run to the U20 World Cup final in 2017. Putting faith in a before unseen golden generation of talent is a risky strategy, but definitely one we can get behind.
With that in mind, here is a look at the nine heroes of Venezuela's U20 World Cup campaign who have made the jump to the senior side.
Club: Caracas FC
A natural. Every time we write about Wuilker Faríñez it is important to emphasise his tremendous rise. He only started goalkeeping at the age of 14 and learnt the position by watching Iker Casillas on YouTube.
Venezuela's undisputed No1 oozes confidence and composure between the posts. His goalkeeping education, or rather his lack of a traditional one, is evident in his approach at times. Unorthodox is certainly a word to describe him but it does not in any way tarnish his burgeoning reputation.
A penalty shootout hero against Uruguay when these two sides met in the U20 World Cup, Vinotino will be hoping for more heroics on Thursday.
Position: Left back
Club: Caracas FC
A tenacious and robust full-back. The Venezuelan defence was almost impenetrable in South Korea and it was the approach of their back four that helped make it so. Fouls were committed frequently and spoke of the 'stop at all costs' policy that was clearly implement by Dudamel. It was effective.
Jose Hernandez was no exception and despite his small 5ft7 frame, he packs a punch. Explosive in bursts and in the tackle, Hernandez looks to be the perfect full-back for a team which prides itself on its energy and organisation, one of the main reasons why his journey to the senior national side has been accelerated.
Don’t be surprised to see him used in a midfield role — out wide or even centrally — should Venezuela want to adopt a more defensive approach.
Position: Right back
The carbon copy of his namesake José, Ronald Hernandez is the perfect mirror.
Also standing at 5ft7, Ronald is perhaps less versatile in terms of moving centrally but can be utilised on either flank in the full-back role or again slightly further forward should defensive solidity be the priority.
The best thing about this particular Hernandez is that he now plays in Norway. Making the move to mid-table side Stabæk in August earlier this year, he has already recorded one assist despite his new club's recent struggles.
A bizarre move in the fact that even his more well-known compatriots still ply their trade in South America, but Ronald Hernandez is surely the first of many to make the move to Europe.
Position: Centre midfield
Club: New York City FC (on loan from Manchester City)
U20 captain and exceptional performer in South Korea in the summer, Yangel Herrera is one of the brightest talents in Venezuelan football. Dominant in the centre of midfield, the New York City FC dynamo possess a wide range of passing as well as a physicality that allows him to challenge any midfield foe in technical or physical duels.
In the U20 final against England, Herrera demonstrated his ability to dominate possession and create chances for his side as well as prove to be a vital screen in front of his defence. Awarded the Bronze Ball for his all-action midfield displays, his tackling is slowly becoming another of his trademark attributes.
Being a Manchester City loanee, a future at the base of Pep Guardiola’s current three-man midfield looks the most likely. Yangel Herrera looks to be a natural successor to Fernandinho with all the tools to become an even more complete addition to the side.
Position: Centre midfield
Club: Atlético Nacional
A personal favourite of La Mini Vinotinto’s squad. Ronaldo Lucena is the swiss-army knife of centre-midfield, managing to pack an arsenal of attributes into the smallest of packages.
An excellent striker of the ball translates into deadly set-piece delivery whilst his superb technique and low centre of gravity allows him to wriggle out of the trickiest situations whilst also proving difficult to dribble away from himself.
Comparing players to current stars is always difficult and can lead to lazy conclusions at times, but Ronaldo Lucena is eerily similar to Santi Cazorla—the deep-lying midfield iteration. His stature means the comparison is easier to make, but the playing style also matches up. If he can reach anywhere near the level of Arsenal’s injury-riddled magician then Venezuela have some player on their hands.
Together with Yangel Herrera, Ronaldo Lucena forms a formidable partnership and one that will hopefully establish itself as a permanent fixture on Rafael Dudamel's senior set up.
Position: Attacking midfield
One of the most exciting players to watch purely because of his size. Players are no longer turned away because of their height as if they were queuing for a rollercoaster, instead their heightened agility and dribbling prowess because of it are now sought after characteristics.
Soteldo is a sublime technician and his cameos in the U20 World Cup were defined by delicate touches, mazy runs and intelligent decisions in the final third. Blighted by knee injuries, his role in the summer’s success was limited and should he have been fully fit then Venezuela would have scored even more goals.
A menace across the whole frontline, Soteldo is best used with as much freedom as possible and like many right footed players seems most comfortable operating from the left.
Club: Deportivo Táchira
Samuel Sosa the super sub. His magnificent strike in the final minutes of the U20 World Cup semi-final against Uruguay rescued Venezuela from the jaws of defeat and led to Faríñez’s eventual heroics in the shootout.
One of the youngest members of their squad in South Korea, being called up to the senior side is yet another incredible step for the Deportivo Táchira winger. Blessed with a luscious left foot, as all players of that nature seem to be, Sosa is capable of playing as a direct, straight-line runner from his favourite side; or in the more intricate, inverted style that is most common in the modern game.
Any playing minutes as a result of his recent senior call-up will be a big surprise, but to even be included in the squad at such a young age is testament to his ability, potential and a clear signal of Dudamel’s faith in his talent.
Position: Right winger/Centre forward
Club: FC Augsburg
Vinotinto's top scorer in South Korea with four goals, Sergio Córdova is a physical forward. Whether through intelligent movement or pure brute force, his insatiable appetite for goals means he will always have at least once chance.
Deployed on the right-hand side of Dudamel's 4-2-2-2 formation, his pace and power proved to be too difficult to deal with in the group stages. Far better off the ball than on it, resources were funnelled into Adalberto Peñaranda on the left whilst Cordova ghosted into the box to put away the chances created by his partner in crime, rather than fashioning them for himself.
A summer move to Augsburg was an exciting development and despite not starting a game in the Bundesliga just yet, he already has his first goal for the club, being used in a more central forward role which best suits his style of play.
Position: Centre forward
Club: Caracas FC
Another member of the Caracas crew, Chacón is a forward whose contribution to the team is focussed on amplifying the output of his teammates rather than increasing his own.
Used most frequently in a support striker role, he aims to create space for his teammates through his movement, dragging opposition players out of position rather than splitting them apart with his on-the-ball actions.
His inclusion in the senior squad set against his lack of goals seems strange but his tenacity and willingness to sacrifice himself for his teammates made him a valuable member of the U20 World Cup campaign. Chacón's attitude and mentality — valued extremely highly by Dudamel — rather than his raw ability is the most likely reason for his inclusion.
Rafael Dudamel is a Scouted Football favourite: a former goalkeeper for La Vinotinto, it seems the Venezuelan national side is in the safest of hands.
The fact he has packed nearly half of his squad with U23 players is a reward for their incredible performances in South Korea and a sign that the Venezuela's footballing fortunes may be about to change.
After all, their U20 squad have already made history at youth level, who's to say the same crop of players can't repeat the feat at senior level?
Like a fine wine, quite literally, all they need is time.
By Jake Entwistle (@JakeEntwistle)