It is mayhem in the Venezuela dressing room.
The players are jumping up and down, waving their arms around, waving anything around, including towels and the burgundy jerseys they wore in beating Uruguay in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017.
Though energy levels are low after three consecutive matches that have gone to extra time, the entire squad are unable to contain their joy at reaching the final of a FIFA tournament for the first time in the nation’s history.
Well, nearly the entire squad. One player who is not jumping, dancing or screaming his head off is goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez.
“The most exciting thing for us all was to be together praying to God,” replied Venezuela’s superhero when FIFA.com asked him for his highlight of the dressing-room celebrations. In a space in which the adrenaline was pumping, Farinez picked out a moment that defines the kind of person he is.
That reserved and serious approach to life is striking for a young man of 19 years of age and says something about a keeper who had a massive bearing on the most important match in his country’s footballing history. As well as making two saves in the penalty shootout, he made at least four vital stops during the match – three of them exceptional – to keep his side in contention.
“The hardest one was from [Federico] Valverde’s free-kick,” he recalled. “We knew he could put it in the box or go for goal, but I was expecting a cross more than a shot. Luckily I was able to get across to it.” In the shootout he saved from Jose Luis Rodriguez and then sent Venezuela into the final by denying Nicolas de la Cruz.
The Uruguay No11 had put his side ahead from the spot, while Farinez had kept out his Panenka-style penalty in the South American qualifiers. The keeper played down any talk of a personal rivalry between the two, however.
“There’s no duel between us,” explained Farinez. “I just had to think about my country. There was a place in a World Cup final at stake. I decided where I was going to go. With the homework we’ve been doing and what I know as a keeper, it worked out for me.”
Unbeaten until the 118th minute of his side’s quarter-final, Farinez is also the first goalkeeper to score in a FIFA U-20 World Cup match, a feat he achieved against Vanuatu. “I have to thank the coach, who helped me to make history,” he said.
Turning the spotlight away from himself, he voiced his praise for the squad as a whole, for their ability to stay grounded and determined: “We have to remember that we’re Venezuela, that we’re a team and a country that’s coming on fast. Reaching a World Cup final is a turning point we’ve been looking for for a while. For the last two and a half years we’ve been thinking that this is our time, telling ourselves that we can be the best and that we need to have faith. We’re so proud at reaching the final.”
Such is Farinez’s ambition that he can only see Venezuela lifting the trophy now. “That’s what we’re thinking. If we don’t, then we’ll come up short.” But will defeat in the country’s first ever final really be a failure? “Personally, I’d look at it like that in some way, because this is an opportunity we can’t let slip.”
His team-mates on Farinez
“I’m in no doubt that he’s the best keeper in the world.”
Ronald Hernandez, defender.
“I looked him in the eyes and I knew we were going to win.”
Ronaldo Lucena, midfielder.
“He’s reliable and professional and he projects that to the whole team.”
Sergio Cordova, forward.