Copa América - Cinderella under the palm trees - Sport
Venezuela is politically torn, but has a golden generation at the Copa América. The quarter-final against Messi and Argentina should also be a message to the suffering people at home.
On the shoes of Tomás Rincón, at the beginning of the decade professional at Hamburger SV and now under contract with Turin, neither the name of the Venezuelan fatherland nor family members are sewn. But, lo and behold, the word: "Disciplina". Such an admonition to oneself is probably necessary to remember the essentials here. In any case, it sounds almost too martial when Rincón, in a brief dialogue with journalists, insists three times that the hour has now come "to hit the table". Purely sporty, of course.
Such vehement primed tones fit only conditionally to the environment. Although the training ground on which the Venezuelans currently train in Rio belongs to the Brazilian military. But the gigantic sports complex of the army with its alleys, houses, shops and just a lush green, shiny manicured lawn between palm trees and private beach, is an idyll under a bright blue sky. Here, Venezuelans want to focus on shedding the image of the "Cinderella" of South American football, which has always stuck to them, as Captain Rincón says.
Coach Dudamel wants to keep the politics out. President Maduro celebrates the team as a warrior
This Friday, at the Estádio Maracanã, against Argentina, the team of five-time world footballer Lionel Messi, it should be so far: A victory in Rio would be the biggest success of the country since the Copa America 2011, as Venezuela only a penalty shootout from the finals was. It was then the fifteenth of now 18 Copa America participations in a country traditionally dedicated to baseball, where football was never more than a marginal sport. Until 1967, Venezuela did not even participate in the South American Championship. To this day, together with Ecuador, it is the only country on the continent that has never won the trophy. For comparison, opponents Argentina already 14 times.
The fact that football took its upswing under the late Hugo Chávez, for example, does not lack a certain irony today, the "Chavismo" is still alive. Chávez was the one who landed the 2007 Copa América and pumped money into the domestic league, when the world's oil richest country still swam in dollars. Under his heir, Nicolás Maduro, the League is starring again - as is the whole politically torn country, devastated by violence and corruption, suffering under the power struggle between the insane Maduro and the young Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself a legitimate president. Four million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015, according to the United Nations, with a population of 32 million. They are also concerned.
One would like to "reward the courage of compatriots who make tremendous efforts abroad," said striker Salomón Rondón, the most prominent of all Venezuelan footballers, signing for Newcastle United and scoring a dozen Premier League goals last term. Rondón caused a sensation in May when he publicly called on President Maduro to stop the violent crackdown on the opposition. Incidentally, the same Maduro, who now celebrates the "Vinotinto," as the team is known for its wine-red jerseys, as a warrior on Twitter, and whose state companies sponsor the association nearly one-hundred percent, says FVF vice-president Jesús Berardinelli. Although Maduro should also know that Rondón spoke quite well for the at least larger part of the team that has shaped the coach Rafael Dudamel to the best generation of his country.
Even Dudamel suffers from his country and is anything but a naïve Maduro disciple. After leading Venezuela to the first international final of its football history in 2017 at the U-20 World Cup - and beating the German side on the way - he also implored the autocrats to silence their guns. But: Dudamel also tries to protect his team against political interrogation. At the last meeting of Argentina with Venezuela, in March in Madrid, he was close to resignation. The "ambassador" Guaidós in Spain had met with the team and then published a photo. This contradicted Dudamel's desire to keep the national team as a haven of unity. Meanwhile, he has assured to lead the country for the World Cup 2022 to Qatar.
By the way, in Madrid, Venezuela won 3-1, the third consecutive game against the two-time world champion in which Venezuela lost to Argentina. Although at that time Messi returned to the circle of national team after a several-month break. Messi will be there again on Friday as captain. "You have not won the jersey for a long time," said Rondón, meaning that the fear of the former football heavyweight has vanished. In the preliminary round, the Venezuelans won against Bolivia and played two draws, against World Cup participants Peru and hosts Brazil. A draw would be almost enough for the Venezuelans. As a precaution, they have already taken penalties on the drill field of the Brazilian army.