Category Archives: Venezuela

Adios Venezuela y Muchas Gracias

They said a Copa America wouldn’t work in “the country of baseball.” They said that political shenanigans would overshadow the football. And they said that the stadiums wouldn’t be ready.

They were partly right about the stadiums. The rest was nonsense. This Copa America has been the best in years. Not because of the goals, that goes without saying. Purely because the Copa got its mojo back.

For the longest time, Conmebol couldn’t decide how often the tournament should be held. There was a two-year break after Paraguay in 1999 and a three-year break after Colombia in 2001. The powerful nations came with under strength or under-21 squads – in 2001 Argentina didn’t even bother to take part.

This time all bar three of the teams were at full strength and Conmebol seems to have definitively decided that its place is every four years in the year following the World Cup. The Copa found itself. And in the unlikeliest of places.

Venezuelans love baseball but they developed a temporary crush on football. On Monday, that infatuation will wear off and they’ll go back to their one and only true love.

But that’s fine. A few have learnt to love the game and that can only be good. More importantly, that enthusiasm was an integral part of making the Copa a success.

I’ve lost count of the number of Venezuelans who told me their passion was baseball but that they were desperately pulling for la vino tinto. When the vino tinto weren’t playing they came to the stadiums and supported Brazil and Argentina.

I leave Venezuela having had a great time. I won’t be back any time soon. But I’ll be rooting for la vino tinto from afar.

Adios y muchas gracias.

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Footballing Success In The Land of Béisbol

The Miami Herald‘s Phil Gunson hails the success of the Copa America in the land of béisbol.

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The Copa’s Best 11?

It has been a cracking tournament and a very open and attacking antidote to the cautious sterility of the World Cup last summer. So cheers to all 12 teams for making a go of it. But who are the tournament’s best players? Here’s our best 11. We’d be interested in hearing your thoughts:

GK: Ochoa (Mexico)

Very unlucky to be dropped in favour of Sánchez after some fine performances in the earlier games especially his brilliant performance against Brazil. Now that game is remembered for Castillo’s opener and a limp showing from Brazil. But if Ochoa had not been on top of his game it could all have been remembered somewhat differently.

Defence: Zanetti (Argentina) -Lugano (Uruguay) – Juan (Brazil) – Gilberto (Brazil)

Argentina’s central defence has not been properly tested yet and we suspect Ayala is vulnerable to pace. Lugano is more mobile and despite being younger has mastered the dark arts of his position. For us Juan has been Brazil’s most consistent performer for several years now. He is also a leader on the pitch and when you look at the price Barcelona paid for Milito we believe Roma have done a very clever bit of business here.

There have been no great left-backs in this tournament but Gilberto has tried to inject some attacking intent into a conservative Brazil. Zanetti is one of several Argentines enjoying a wonderful swansong. Safe, consistent but eager to get involved further up the pitch.

Midfield: Torrado (Mexico) – Mascherano (Argentina) – Cristian Rodriguez (Uruguay)

At times Mascherano has looked like he could play in a midfield of one behind an attack of five. He is, as La Nacion put it, an octopus and lion all in one. But we put him alongside Mexico’s Torrado because Torrado deserves his place and they will provide the platform for the more attack minded players we surround them with to get forward. One of these is Cristian Rodriguez on the left who tormented Brazil in the second half of the semi-final.

The No. 10: Riquelme (Argentina)

Not much more to say really. For us the tournament’s best player, the creative force of its best team and already has five goals of his own. He is a joy – and endlessly fascinating – to watch. A pity this type of player is increasingly a rarity in football these days.

Strikers: Messi (Argentina) – Robinho (Brazil)

Castillo came close in getting a place here but he did not do enough over all of Mexico’s five games and was unlucky to be hindered by injury in the last of them. On the other hand Robinho has almost single-handedly got Brazil into the final, scoring six goals along the way. His dive against Ecuador was a stain but without his sparkle you suspect Dunga’s men would already be on holiday. Messi pushes Riquelme close in the vote for best player overall. He has sublime close control aided by a centre of gravity that might defy the laws of physics, great speed and the happy habit of scoring some beautiful goals.

Coach: Coco Basile

Has got his stars working in harmony for the greater good and has made wise use of his subs to swing tight games his way. He has not been stubborn when it has come to rethinking his plans as in the way he overcame his desire for a more traditional target man when it became clear that Diego Milito did not deserve to keep out Tevez (another close candidate for our starting 11).

Maybe not surprisingly all our players come from the semi-finalists, the tournament’s four best teams. Several of the Ecuadorean squad impressed but their fragility told against them. They did after all lose all their games. Countrywise our team is made up of:

Argentina – 4
Brazil – 3
Mexico – 2
Uruguay – 2

So what are your thoughts? Comments please!

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Fantastic Copa, Shame About The Driving

Maracaibo is filling up for the final and the traffic is destined to get even worse than usual.

The thing that has surprised me most about Venezuela is the driving. My colleagues and I used to argue over which country had the worst drivers: Brazil or Argentina. Both have unenviable rates of traffic fatalities. The correct answer, however, is Venezuela.

The traffic in the cities I’ve visited has been horrendous. It can take hours to get anywhere because of the congestion. Accidents abound. In the four hour trip from Maracaibo to Barquisimeto I saw two bad crashes. The trip back from the stadium into town the other night took hours because a lorry had hit a car (and because the roads weren’t finished). Colleagues report similar horror stories.

Part of the reason is that so many Venezuelans drive clapped out old cars. The two-car family is the norm among all but the poor.

They can afford it because petrol is so cheap. Unbelievably, laughably, ridiculously cheap. How cheap? Less than two and a half pence a litre. Or by another measure, almost 40 litres for a pound. Or for Americans, 80 litres for a dollar.

And that’s at the official exchange rate. At the illegal exchange rate from the guy on the corner you can almost double the rate (from 2150 Bolivares per dollar to 3700 Bolivares per dollar).

I’ll be glad to get back to Brazilian drivers. I never thought I’d ever say that…

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Venezuela’s Baseball-v-Football Divide

Part of CONMEBOL’s reasoning for awarding this year’s Copa to Venezuela was to speed the advance of football in a baseball-mad country. But what’s the reason behind baseball’s supremacy over football in this corner of a football-obsessed continent? Find out here.

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Power Failure Hits Uruguay-Brazil Semi-Final

Just after Brazil took an early 1-0 lead in their semi-final against Uruguay through a flowing move finished off by defender Maicon the lights went out in Maracaibo. The stadium has been in the dark now for over five minutes with no indication yet as to when the floodlights will be back on and the game can continue.

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You Can Hope…

Venezuela wants to host the 2022 World Cup.

The Copa America has been a success, even though some stadiums are unfinished and the country’s infrastructure is clearly unprepared for the influx of visitors. But Venezuelan footballing authorities are so bouyed by the experience that they want to do it again and are vowing to ask FIFA President Sepp Blatter to support a bid for the tournament.

“We are expecting Mr Blatter on Friday the 13th and we will ask him to host the Under 15 or Under 17 World Cup,” said Rafael Esquivel, the president of the Venezuelan Football Federation. “Nevertheless, people asked me why don’t we go for the big World Cup in 2022.”

“And so we will ask for that too. We must take advantage of this opportunity, we have the best stadiums in South America and we have the unconditional support of the President Hugo Chavez.”

Dream on, muchachos…

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