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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
Venezuela no longer a joke
By Tim Vickery

GROUP STANDINGS 7 OCTOBER
Venezuela coach Richard Paez
Brazil P8 W4 D4 L0 16
Argentina P8 W4 D3 L1 15
Paraguay P8 W4 D2 L2 14
Chile P8 W3 D3 L2 12
Ecuador P8 W3 D1 L4 10
Venezuela P8 W3 D1 L4 10
Uruguay P8 W3 D1 L4 10
Peru P8 W2 D3 L3 9
Colombia P8 W2 D2 L4 8
Bolivia P8 W2 D0 L6 6

In unseasonal cold and driving rain, Brazil prepare in the mountains outside Rio for the next two rounds of World Cup qualifiers.

Conditions are likely to be very different in Maracaibo on Saturday when Carlos Alberto Parreira's men travel to take on Venezuela.

The game will be played in tropical heat - and the hosts are determined to make it a hot evening on the field for the world champions.

Some years ago a former Brazil coach described Venezuelan football as 'a joke'. But the long trip north is not quite so funny any more. Venezuela have made massive strides in recent times.

Their list of scalps is impressive. In the last three years they have won World Cup qualification games against Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru - and topped it all with a historic 3-0 win in Uruguay's famous Centenario Stadium earlier this year.

All they lack - apart from qualification itself - is a triumph over one of the continent's big two.

It could have come against Argentina a year ago. Venezuela wasted two clear chances in the first two minutes, and then quickly found themselves picked off on the counter-attack by an opponent who finished with ruthless efficiency to win 3-0.

If they had scored from one of their early opportunities then it could have been a different story.

In the subsequent six rounds Venezuela have won three games, and conceded just three goals.

Hopes are high, then, that Saturday could bring another historic victory.

The tickets were sold out in a matter of hours and the outside world has certainly paid attention to the development of Venezuelan football.

Two or three years ago almost all of the national squad were still playing in domestic football.

Now they have players in Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Scotland, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Uruguay and of their 21 man squad, 16 are now based abroad.

Venezuela star player Juan Arango
Arango will need to be on top form if Venezuela are to cause an upset
Coach Richard Paez promises that his team will attempt to keep Brazil under pressure.

It could well be the best strategy, especially as the world champions are struggling in the key defensive midfield position.

Both Edmilson and Gilberto Silva are injured, so Renato of Sevilla will step in, and though he unselfishly carried out the role in July's Copa America, screening the back four is not his natural game.

His battle against Venezuela's star player Juan Arango will be one of the most fascinating aspects of the match.

An injury in the Venezuela camp has meant a late call up for veteran striker Juan Garcia. Back in 1993 he scored Venezuela's first ever World Cup qualifier goal against Brazil - little more than a consolation because his side were beaten 5-1.

The scoreline should be closer this time. A win for the hosts, though, would still be one of the biggest upsets in the history of the South American game.

But if the gods of football are in the mood for a fairy tale, then Garcia will come off the bench to score the winning goal.



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