Venezuela 1.0 – Introduction and First Year

This is written by guest author  @edinh_96

Before you dive into this piece about a new career I’ve started with Venezuela, check out another save story I’ve been doing with Everton, right here on Tea & Busquets. Here are the links for Part 1 and Part 2 which introduce and summarise my first year at Goodison Park. As a FYI, this Venezuela career doesn’t mean that I’m discontinuing the Everton one, it’s just another one I’m doing aside from it that I’ve decided to write about as well.

INTRODUCTION

My inspiration to do a career with the Venezuelan national team began last summer, when their U-20 national team defied the odds and reached the World Cup final at that level, despite them being considered heavy outsiders going into the tournament. The craziest thing about them playing in a youth World Cup final is that their senior team has never even appeared in the actual World Cup itself. They’re the only South American nation to have never played in one and they’re also one of only two South American nations to have never won a Copa America title, Ecuador being the other. They’ve never even reached a final or finished in third in any edition either, which even Mexico and Honduras have achieved respectively and they aren’t even part of CONMEBOL, South American football’s governing body.

It’s perhaps somewhat surprising that the fourth most populated nation on the continent has largely been hanging around in the basement of South American football for much of its existence. Of course, the country’s main sport isn’t football unlike with the others, that would be baseball, but you’d still expect them to have reached at least one World Cup or a Copa America final by now. But that’s part of the challenge and what motivates me to bring some joy to the country in football at last. It’d be harsh to say that Venezuela don’t have any history in the sport, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they don’t have many successes throughout their existence to pride themselves on. That’s something we’ll be looking to change in this career.

CAREER GOALS

Given that brief summary of Venezuela’s history at senior international level, I think it’s pretty easy to make out what my main goals will be in this career. Lead Venezuela to a first ever FIFA World Cup appearance and attempt to win a Copa America title. With the nation coming fresh off a U-20 World Cup final, along with players like Josef Martinez, Salomon Rondon, Juanpi, and Tomas Rincon in or going into their prime years already there forming the core of the squad, this is as good a point as any in the team’s history to help them realise those targets.

Of course, it will be tough to accomplish what we’re setting out to do with the high level of competition in South America with the established powerhouses Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay all there, while other nations like Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru are all strong and have had successes of their own in recent times. This doesn’t deter us though from setting the bar high from the start and working our way up to achieve our goals one by one as I believe we have both the quality and the potential to do so.

FIRST YEAR

I’ve already completed my first year in charge of La Vinotinto. Below are the results.

Rather than beginning the career at the midway point of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, I decided that I went to start fresh on a clean slate and not be judged on the results of the Russia 2018 cycle, which ended in disappointment for the nation anyways. I took charge at the very end of 2017, after the qualifiers had already ended and the World Cup groups were drawn, to ensure that our beginnings were totally new and not linked at all with the previous campaign as we look ahead to a new era.

With no competitive games to play in 2018 as a result of Venezuela’s failure to qualify for Russia, all we had to play were friendly matches. So I carefully arranged eight matches where the main objectives were to test the team against different types of opponents from different continents, experiment three different tactics specifically designed based on the opposition to see what the best fit for the squad is, and try out numerous players to see who looks the part and could play a part in our plans going into future challenges.

For my first games in charge, I set up a pair of friendlies against lower-ranked opposition where we could experiment a counter-attacking 4-4-2 system that allowed us to showcase more of our offensive talent albeit slightly at the expense of better defensive structure. Things looked good offensively in the 5-1 win at Suriname, but we had issues defending in transitions in our next outing against Angola where we ended up conceding twice on the break. We rallied back from 2-0 down to get a 2-2 draw and could even have won it in the late stages. Overall I liked the promise we showed in attack with this tactic and would like to use it again at some point, but I don’t feel it really suits our personnel as we don’t have enough quality on the wings and it may be better served as a ‘Plan B’ option when we need to sacrifice defense more for offense when we’re in need of a result.

Next, we traveled to La Paz to face one of our rivals in the forthcoming Copa America and 2022 World Cup qualifiers, Bolivia, and hosted Costa Rica, who participated in four of the last five World Cups, in Maracaibo, In both games, I lined the team up in a 5-3-2 shape with a focus on direct passing and counter attacking football. I was intrigued to see how we’d do in this system as I felt that it had the potential to be my primary tactic from first glance at the players we had when I took charge. And the team duly delivered in all facets of play in these two matches in this set up which only further assured me that this tactic suits this team the most from all my ideas. A 3-1 win at the home of one of our South American adversaries which included a dominant second half display and a 1-0 grind at home against the Costa Ricans where we sat back, dug deep, and pulled out a result, despite being down a man for an entire half with Rincon getting sent off just before the interval. We showed two different sides of us in these games with our attacking flair shining in the former and our strong mental resolve bringing us a win in the latter, but looked equally as impressive in both and that was pleasing to see.

Following this up was a European tour where we faced Austria and Netherlands which served a different proposition than the teams we could come across in the Americas. After the success of the 5-3-2 tactic during the previous international break, I decided to continue with it here and try to build the players’ understanding and cohesion further and it paid off. We beat Austria 1-0 away in what was our most complete performance of the year, although the winner came from a very fluky own goal. We lost 1-0 to the Dutch in our next game as my man in another career (which you can read about here on Tea & Busquets also) Davy Klaassen scored an early beauty from a distance. Defensively we looked as good as we did in any of the previous three games, but offensively we struggled to create much and only looked threatening from set pieces.

And finally, we wrapped up the year with a North American journey with games against USA and Canada. I tried out the 5-3-2 again against the former but we fell to a 2-0 defeat in a performance that was a slightly poorer version of the one against Holland, although the game was a close run thing until the U.S. bagged their second in the final minute. I then decided to try out a new tactic for the Canada game, a 4-2-3-1 setup with a lineup consisting mostly of non-starters and untested players in an attempt to try something different and see how it goes. As you can see by the results above, this one didn’t go so well and the worst part is that it could have been an even bigger win for the Canadians. A pretty poor way to round out a good year for us, but I don’t rule out trying out this tactic or these players again in the future. It’s not a good idea to jump to conclusions after one bad game, but when I’ll go with a similar approach to this one again, I’m not really too sure.

GOING INTO 2019

Just before 2018 officially ended, we found out our adversaries in next summer’s Copa America in Brazil. We were drawn in Group B alongside one of the tournament favourites Argentina, whom we’ll lock horns with in our opening game, Peru, and Paraguay. This competition isn’t a big priority for us this year, as I mainly see it as an opportunity to test ourselves in a competitive environment and tournament format ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers which start right after the summer. So I’ll be using this in a similar vein to the friendlies and trying out different tactics, players, and combinations and settling on what works best before those games begin.

With that being said though, I honestly think we got a draw that gives us a chance of getting out of the group and into the last eight so we’ll see how we’ll end up doing. Irregardless of that, the results aren’t as important here as learning things about ourselves that we can take into the qualifiers and use them to grow.

I also plan on attending every match involving Venezuela in the upcoming South American U-20 Championship in January, which will serve doubly as qualifiers for the 2019 U-20 World Cup. The main purpose, other than lending support to the nation I’m managing and the head coach that I hand-picked for them in Fabio Espada, is to get a closer look at some of the talents in the squad and see if we can find anyone who can join the pool of options for the senior team going into the 2022 cycle.

We also have a couple of home friendlies coming up before the Copa too, with Spain visiting in March and a go-home match against Jamaica in June, where we’ll be looking to get some more positive tidbits and lessons for our preparations for the tournament. I haven’t made up my mind yet on how I’ll select my squad for the Copa and certainly not on who will be in it, but these games will serve as opportunities to help me get closer to figuring out so it’ll be important for the players that get to play there to impress me and book their tickets to Brazil.

And that’s it for Part 1 of my new Venezuela series. In the next piece, I’ll look to sum up my thoughts and observations based on my attendance of the U-20 team’s games in the South American Championship, summarise and review our Copa America performance, and share some opinions on the players that I’ve tested out as manager and who fits into my plans going into the qualifiers. Until next time.

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