Under-20 World Cup: Can Venezuela shock England in the Suwon final?

Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel
Rafael Dudamel is Venezuela's senior coach - but has also taken charge of the U20s for this tournament

England will bid to win a global football tournament for the first time in 51 years when they face Venezuela Under-20s in the South Korean city of Suwon on Sunday (11:00 BST).

You can watch the game live on BBC Two and the BBC Sport website.

Currently ranked 58th in the world by Fifa, Venezuela have never qualified for a full World Cup and their senior men's team will not make Russia 2018.

Reaching the final of the Fifa Under-20s World Cup is Venezuela's greatest achievement in world football.

So who are they, how do they play and who are the key men England must be wary of?

Venezuela's back story

Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel cried most of the way through the penalty shootout his side won in the semi-final against Uruguay. For someone who remembers the bad times, the good times are almost too much to take.

Dudamel was Venezuela's goalkeeper, in the flamboyant South American tradition, in an era when he had to watch the ball flying past him. Twenty years ago his country was much more associated with baseball and beauty contests.

Venezuela was the South American exception, the land where football had never caught on. Dudamel can look back on some crushing defeats.

It is a very different story now. Huge strides have been made. Venezuela has invested in the game - building some impressive stadiums to host the 2007 Copa America - and has invested in youth development. This Under-20 team is the consequence.

Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel playing for his national side against Brazil
Rafael Dudamel was capped 57 times for Venezuela and even scored a goal - a free-kick against Argentina

Earlier this century, while Dudamel was still playing, the senior national side suddenly started putting some wins together. Indeed, at one time it even looked possible that they might qualify for Brazil 2014.

The current World Cup qualification campaign, though, has been a disaster - largely because they tried an attacking approach without the necessary defensive pace or solidity. With no hope of making it to Russia, their 2022 challenge has already started, and this Under-20 World Cup is a part of it.

This explains why Dudamel, the senior coach, has taken charge of the Under-20s even while the full side are playing international friendlies. For most of the South American nations, the Under-20 team is of huge importance, providing a conveyor belt to the senior ranks.

For Venezuela that is especially true - some of the players in South Korea have already picked up some senior caps. And whatever happens on Sunday, they will pick up plenty more. If everything goes according to plan, they will be the first generation of Venezuelan players to make it to the World Cup.

The campaign so far

Dudamel's team had looked very impressive at the start of the year in the 2017 South American Youth Football Championship, which decided qualification - where Brazil failed to make it and Argentina needed a miracle to cross the line.

Uruguay were champions, but Venezuela did well against them both times they met, holding them to a goalless draw in the group phase, and breaking out in the last half hour to win 3-0 in the decisive second stage.

Confidence, then, was high going into the tournament, and early nerves were calmed with an opening 2-0 win over Germany. Vanuatu were then thrashed 7-0, and with a place in the knockout stage already assured, they beat Mexico 1-0.

After cruising through the group, could they cope with the abrupt switch to sudden death? It all became very tight. They needed extra time to score the only goal against Japan, and then began to fret in the quarter-final as they wasted chances against the USA.

In another extra-time battle, they came through 2-1 to face Uruguay once more in an all-South American semi-final.

They went a goal down soon after half-time, and looked to be on the way out. But they saved themselves with a stoppage-time free-kick, and after yet another extra time, they overcame the Uruguayans on penalties.

The statistic that jumps out is the fact that they have conceded just two goals in six games - one right at the end against the USA when they were already two goals up, and another a very dubious penalty - a controversial decision from the video referee - in the semi-final.

What is Venezuela's style of play?

Venezuela's Wuilker Farinez
Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez has only conceded two goals in the tournament

Even against Uruguay, with two defenders suspended and up against a very fast centre forward, Venezuela trusted they had the speed at the back to defend high and seek to impose themselves on the game.

There is an attacking balance to the midfield quartet, with both the central players (Manchester City's Yangel Herrera and Ronaldo Lucena) playing a mixed role, while Watford's Adalberto Penaranda and Sergio Cordova down the flanks are full of thrust and look to get into the penalty area.

The front two, Ronaldo Pena and Ronaldo Chacon, rotate positions and balance the side out by working back.

There are some interesting options on the bench, too, especially the elusive little Yeferson Soteldo - though it was another substitute, the left-footed Samuel Sosa, who saved the campaign with that glorious 91st-minute free-kick equaliser in the semi-final.

The goals have been shared around the side, with a total of nine players getting on the scoresheet - including keeper Wuilker Farinez, who slotted home a penalty against Vanuatu.

Who are Venezuela's key players?

Venezuela's Wuilker Farinez
Wuilker Farinez became the first keeper ever to score in an U20 World Cup when he scored from the spot against Vanuatu

Wuilker Farinez (Caracas)

Venezuela have been aware for a while that they have a potential top-class keeper on their hands - Farinez was taken to the 2015 Copa America at the age of 17, and was first choice in the World Cup qualifiers at the end of March.

On the small side for the position, he is wonderfully agile and full of confidence. The man England have to beat to lift the trophy, but it will not be easy - even from 12 yards if it goes to penalties.

Venezuela's Williams Velasquez
Williams Velasquez was strongly linked to Watford in February

Williams Velasquez (Estudiantes de Caracas)

Centre-back who missed the semi-final through suspension, but will surely return for the decider. Good in the air, quick on the ground, two footed and consistently impressive, he has been a defensive rock and will have filled scouts' notebooks.

Venezuela's Yangel Herrera
Yangel Herrera has scored once in five MLS appearances this season

Yangel Herrera (New York City, on loan from Manchester City)

The team's captain and central midfield heartbeat picked up from Atletico Venezuela by Manchester City in January and loaned to the US. Classy, fiery - sometimes too fiery - and box to box.

Passes quickly, links up with attack, can shoot effectively from outside the area and is also a danger in the air - a bit like an old-fashioned British midfield dynamo.

Venezuela's Adalberto Penaranda
Adalberto Penaranda played in Malaga's 2-0 win over Barcelona in April

Adalberto Penaranda (Malaga, on loan from Watford)

Technically owned by Watford, but has bounced around linked clubs (Udinese, Granada and more lately Malaga) since arriving in Europe two years ago. Did not play in the qualifying tournament, though he did appear in the previous version in 2015.

An attacking midfielder who can work either flank, he is filling out physically and offers considerable thrust in the final third.

Venezuela's Yeferson Soteldo
Yeferson Soteldo has won four senior caps for Venezeula

Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato)

Moved to Chile early this year after starring in the qualifying tournament, and has since been linked with Buenos Aires giants River Plate. Has not been at his best in this competition, and the inclusion of Penaranda has forced him to drop to the bench.

But he remains a very interesting option. Tiny figure who dribbles with the ball tied to his foot. His decision making can be infuriating, but as a fluid runner against tiring defences, he is a potential match winner.

What are Venezuela's chances of beating England?

Venezuela's players celebrate
Venezuela are the only Conmebol side to have never qualified for the World Cup

Venezuela had never before reached the quarter-finals of a global tournament. This is only the second time they have qualified for the Under-20 World Cup - and on the previous occasion, in 2009, they benefited from hosting the qualification tournament.

So for them to be a game away from a world title is a momentous achievement, and it will be fascinating to see how they cope with being so close to glory.

On the one hand, some of the key players have more experience than their England opponents. Of the five players cited above, only one (Williams Velasquez) has not played for the senior national side in World Cup qualifiers.

On the other hand, the team may pay some price for going through three consecutive games of 120 minutes - the second round, quarter-final and semi-final all went to extra time. England, meanwhile, have never had to go beyond 90 minutes.

The physical factor, then, could tip the balance England's way. Venezuela, though, have earned the right to believe that their name is on the trophy.

One of the true tests of a team is how it reacts on going behind. True, England had to respond after an early Italy goal in their semi. Venezuela, though, were on the verge of elimination, behind for the first time in the tournament to a harshly awarded penalty.

If they could pull themselves out of that one, then maybe they can drag weary bodies over the line one more time.

But the key question, as coach Dudamel must be stressing, is that win or lose, what happens on Sunday in South Korea serves as valuable experience on the way towards qualifying for the senior World Cup. Player development, and not results, is always the priority of age limit football.

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