Venezuela squad aim high for World Cup opener
Updated: 2003-08-29 10:08
Venezuela coach Richard Paez has taken his team to the mountains to prepare for their opening World Cup qualifier against Ecuador in Quito next week.
Paez hopes that intensive altitude training in the Venezuelan and Colombian Andes will give his side the lift they need to finally shake off their long-time image as the ugly ducklings of South American soccer.
He has called up the full complement of foreign-based Venezuela players including midfielder Juan Arango who has been a powerhouse of the greatly improved national side. Arango plays for Mexico's Puebla.
"The altitude training is good for us to be able to adapt, so we can play without problems," Paez, who has been in charge of the national team since early 2001, told Reuters.
He said his side, known locally as the "red wine boys" because of the wine-red shirts they wear, were well motivated to try to qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.
"We know we've got a heck of a challenge in front of us, but we're going to fight," he said.
To prepare for the September 6 match in the high-altitude Ecuadorean capital Quito, the Venezuelan squad were due to gather from Thursday onwards in the mountain resort of Rio Negro in neighbouring Colombia.
This followed prior altitude training in the Venezuelan Andes.
Venezuela meet Argentina in their second World Cup qualifier in Caracas on September 9.
Paez is credited with improving the poor image that has dogged the national team for decades in Venezuela, a country where baseball is still more popular than soccer.
In the run-up to the 2002 Japan/South Korea World Cup, Venezuela for the first time avoided coming bottom in the regional qualifiers, scoring creditable wins over Uruguay, Chile, Peru and Paraguay.
Since then, the positive trend has continued with Venezuela beating Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Honduras and Haiti in friendlies this year. They have lost to the United States, Peru and Nigeria.
In a 2002 friendly against Ecuador, Venezuela won 2-0.
Venezuelan players called up for the September qualifiers from their overseas clubs are Manuel Sanhouse (Espoli, Ecuador), Jose Rey and Jorge Rojas (Emelec, Ecuador), Alejandro Cichero (Cerro, Uruguay), Hector Gonzalez (Colon de Santa Fe, Argentina), Gabriel Urdaneta (Kriens, Switzerland) and Arango.
They will be joined in Rio Negro by Gilberto Angelucci, Luis Vallenilla, Leonel Vielma, Wilfredo Alvarado, Miguel Mea Vitali, Luis Vera, Leopoldo Jimenez, Ricardo David Paez, Giovanny Perez, Ruberth Moron, Christian Casseres, Daniel Noriega and Wilfredo Moreno, who all play in Venezuela.