In these days, the reality in Venezuela is very poor. There is an ongoing crisis in the country that may even lead to a civil war. No one can think about football, less than two months before the 2019 Copa America kick off. Despite all, if there is something that may bring hope in this horrible situation is the national team, El Vinotinto, that can unite the people when a major tournament is coming.
Venezuela was never considered as a good football side, and in fact, they are the only South American team that has never qualified to the World Cup. Even though football is not the most popular sport in the country, the fans are fanatics when it comes to the national team. In the last decade, Venezuelan football made huge progress and was very close to qualify to the 2014 World Cup.
We can barely count the Venezuelan footballers who made their mark in Europe. Among them, we can find Juan Arango, the former star who played in the German Bundesliga, Torino's Tomas Rincon and Newcastle player Salomón Rondón. Another name may join them very soon is the 21-year-old goalkeeper of Millonarios, Wuilker Faríñez.
Faríñez was born on February 15, 1998 in the capital city Caracas, and raised in one of the poorest neighborhoods. His love for the game started at the age of 7 when his father bought him a ball. At first he played as a striker, but eventually he chose to be a goalkeeper. Scouts marked him as a hot prospect, and the media made a video report on him when he was only 14 years old. "My biggest dream is to play for an international club to help my family to move out from our poor neighborhood in the future", told Faríñez in that interview.
Faríñez got his first chance to do so in Real Madrid. In 2013, he was chosen as one out of 20 Venezuelan players that were invited to practice in the club. Faríñez was the last one to stay at the club. In one of the training sessions, two coaches tried to score while he was on goal, but both failed. He was close to join the youth academy, but the deal hasn't been finalized, and he returned to Venezuela.
He started his professional career at the age of 16 when he played for his club, Caracas FC, one of the biggest in Venezuela, which made him as the club's youngest ever goalkeeper. When Renny Vega, Caracas FC legendary goalkeeper, retired, Faríñez was marked as his successor. "I was pleased that they trusted me instead of signing another experienced goalkeeper", said Faríñez. A year later, he got his first international call-up and also became the youngest goalkeeper to be selected for his national team. He was in the final squad for both 2015 and 2016 Copa America. Although he didn't play, Faríñez was already marked as a hot prospect for the future.
His most significant breakthrough was with the U-20 national team. He managed to qualify with the team to the U-20 World Cup in 2017. He was a critical factor in the qualifiers and also during the World Cup. Venezuela surprised everyone, as the team reached the final against England and lost 1-0. During the tournament, he conceded only three goals in seven matches and was the first ever goalkeeper to score in the U-20 World Cup, a penalty against Vanuatu.
It didn’t take too long until he also made his senior official international debut. He played in two friendly matches in 2016, one unofficial contest against the Galicia national team and another one against Panama, but his first official matches were in the last part of the 2018 World Cup. He took part in six games and performed well against some of the continent's stars like Lionel Messi and Edinson Cavani.
His best performance was against Colombia in a match that has ended with a goalless draw. It led the Colombian club Millonarios to sign him in January 2018. He got adapted to his new club and was an important player when his club won the Superliga Colombiana title in the same year. Faríñez is still looking for a first domestic league title, and there is an excellent chance to do it, as his team finished at the top spot of the league before the playoffs.
Lately, Faríñez was linked with a possible transfer to Barcelona, and it's not a coincidence. He is considered as one of the best goalkeepers in the continent, despite the fact he is young and short compared to other players. He is controlling the ball better than others when he uses his legs, something that he brought from his time as a striker. His reflexes are also phenomenal, and in one of his last matches, he made a triple save.
With all these rumours and hopes for the future, Faríñez stays modest and calm. "My biggest dream is to play in Europe, but I believe that everything will come in its time", he says. The next Copa America will be a test for him and Venezuela. If he will lead his nation to a successful campaign, he can make not only his dream to come true, but also make Venezuela's dreams to a reality.