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Venezuela vibrancy can bring country Copa America boost

Venezuela are certainly one of South America’s underachievers when it comes to the beautiful game, as football has long had to compete with baseball for natives’ hearts in the coastal country.

Yet, a best ever finish in fourth place at the 2011 Copa America could have changed all that, and the Vinotinto have the chance to advance again in Chile, where they are 33/1 chances with Coral to lift the trophy.

Venezuela tactician Noel Sanvicente has only been in charge since July 2014, and appears to be eyeing the prestigious tournament as an opportunity to mould a squad capable of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

“I’m not here [in the job] to win a Copa America, I’m here to get us qualified [for the next World Cup]. If not, it’s a failure,” said the former Caraca and Zamora coach.

This does not mean Venezuela, who have never featured at a World Cup and are one of only three South American nations not to have tasted Copa America success, are not aiming to make a splash in the tournament this time out, however.

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“The fourth place was very important, but we’ve not won anything. We want more,” Sanvincente told press recently.

Ambitious Vinotinto may not possess standout superstar names like Group C rivals Brazil, Colombia, and even Peru, but Venezuelan talents have slowly but surely been infiltrating Europe and they can offer a relatively experienced roster.

This starts in goal with talented Tenerife stopper Dani Hernandez, who has kept four clean sheets in 16 appearances for the Segunda Division side, but it is defence that perhaps boasts the biggest names. Malaga right back Roberto Rosales, Nantes centre half Oswaldo Viscarrondo and adaptable Middlesbrough loanee Fernando Amorebieta, should all play their parts in marshalling Venezuela’s rearguard.

Meanwhile, in midfield it is Juan Arango, as captain, most-capped player and all-time leading scorer, who takes top billing. Though at age 34, the former Mallorca and Borussia Monchengladbach maestro may expect to be phased-out, but should still be a vital piece of Venezuela’s puzzle for this tournament, with Genoa midfield shield Tomas Rincon likely partnering to provide protection.

Wing sensation Christian Santos of Dutch outfit NEC will pose a threat down the flank, having hit 23 league goals to help his club gain promotion to the Eredivisie. Meanwhile, namesakes Mario Rondon and Jose Salomon Rondon will provide the firepower, with the latter having hit 18 across all competitions for Russian juggernaut Zenit St Petersburg this campaign.

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Fellow forwards, including Rayo Vallecano frontman Nicolas Fedor and 21-year-old Torino starlet Josef Martinez, will also allow Sanvicente much-needed attacking depth.

On the face of things, Venezuela look very much like group outsiders, with their cupboard relatively bare compared to the plentiful resources of rivals Brazil and Colombia. Yet the Samba Boys and Coffee Growers should be careful of complacency, as the Vinotinto have proven to be giant-killers before, famously scalping Argentina during the last World Cup qualifiers.

In-form and having won three of last four clashes (including victory against forthcoming competitors Peru), Venezuela could be set for their most superb Copa America showing yet.

Venezuela’s provisional squad for the 2015 Copa America:

Goalkeepers: Alain Baroja (Caracas), Wuilker Farinez (Caracas), Dani Hernandez (Tenerife)

Defenders: Wilker Angel (Deportivo Tachira), Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana), Juan Fuenmayor (Deportivo Anzoategui), Alexander Gonzalez (Thun), Grenddy Perozo (Ajaccio), Roberto Rosales (Malaga), Andres Tunez (Buriram United), Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes)

Midfielders: Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Juan Arango (Tijuana), Cesar Gonzalez (Deportivo Tachira), Alejandro Guerra (Atletico Nacional), Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira), Yohandry Orozco (Deportivo Tachira), Tomas Rincon (Genoa), Christian Santos (NEC), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe)

Forwards: Fernando Aristeguieta (Philadelphia Union), Edder Farias (Caracas), Nicolas Fedor (Rayo Vallecano), Josef Martinez (Torino), Jhon Murillo (Zamora), Gelmin Rivas (Deportivo Tachira) Mario Rondon (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright), Salomon Rondon (Zenit St Petersburg)