Hugo Chavez, Miss Universe & 10 things you need to know about Copa America surprise package Venezuela

As the fairytale team of 2011 play the biggest match in their history tonight against Paraguay, gives an insight into the place where football still comes second
By Daniel Edwards, Copa America correspondent

The Venezuelan national side are currently sailing in uncharted waters. They have already bested their most successful Copa America campaign ever, fifth place in 1967, and this evening in Mendoza have the chance to reach a dream final with Uruguay when they take on Paraguay. The semi-final is fitting reward for the Vinotinto, who have shown plenty of heart and soul and no little talent to go through the tournament unbeaten and give themselves the chance to make history.

Footballing minnows compared to Argentina, Brazil and their other illustrious neighbours, an ignorance of this fascinating country's rich culture and history on and off the pitch is more than understandable. has prepared a light-hearted insight into the South American nation, highlighting the things that have made the nation famous and infamous over the years...

10) Their shirt is also a drink

The distinctive burgundy shirt that Venezuela have chosen as their home strip is known across South America as the 'Vinotinto'; in English - red wine, reflecting the deep red of Cesar Farias' men. Fans like to state that this colour is the result of mixing the blue, red and yellow of the national flag together, but the truth is a little more prosaic; the burgundy was assigned by the IOC in 1938, when the team travelled to Colombia in order to play the Bolivarian Games.

9) Their coach is a wunderkind
The name Cesar Farias would not have meant much to many observers of football outside Venezuela before 2011, but it is definitely on the map now. The precocious trainer was coaching in the first division at just 29-years-old, was national team coach at 34 and now at 38, is comfortably the youngest coach in the competition.

8) Their women are beautiful
Not this writer's opinion, but the informed view of the Miss Universe panel of judges. Venezuela became the first ever nation to retain ownership of the beauty pageant title in 2009, when Dayana Mendoza handed over the crown to compatriot Stefania Fernandez. In total there have been six winners of Miss Universe from Venezuela; two more than the number of Copa America games the side have ever won.

7) The players lack no experience
While the coach may still be finding his international feet, he has plenty of old hands to turn to in his squad. Only three players in the Vinotinto squad have less than 10 caps; 13 have over 30 under their belt, while Jose Manuel Rey and Juan Arango (left) lead the elders with 111 and 98 respectively.

6) The bat and ball rules
At least, it used to. Things are slowly changing in Venezuela, with football gaining more popularity and investment; but they don't call it the 'land of baseball' for nothing. A professional baseball league arrived in 1945, 12 years before footballers began to get paid, and top Venezuelan prospects get snapped up by US Major League teams at a far-greater rate than their counterparts in football.

5) They have a less than glittering history
It is for this reason then that Venezuela have had little to boast about on the football pitch. They are the only Conmebol member not to reach the World Cup, and in their Copa America history have recorded just four victories - two in this competition. Their goal difference? 33 for, 145 conceded.

4) They boast the father of South American patriotism

Anyone who has spent time in South America can attest to the fact that its people are fiercely proud of their continent and culture, common to countries that had to throw off the shackles of colonialism and fight for independence. And few can claim a more prestigious freedom fighter than Venezuela: Simon Bolivar, born in Caracas and, along with Jose de San Martin, considered the founder and symbol of American liberation for his battles against the Spanish.

3) The world's most controversial commentator will be offering live commentary on tomorrow's clash against Paraguay, but if you speak a bit of Spanish and want a slightly more, let's say colourful view of the match, polemic president Hugo Chavez will more than happily oblige. 'El Presidente' comments on the games via twitter as he recuperates from cancer surgery in Cuba, even throwing in the obligatory GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL when his beloved Vinotinto hit the back of the net.

2) It's cheap to get around
Black gold, Texas tea; whatever you like to call it, Venezuela has it in spades. The country boasts one of the biggest oil reserves in the world off its Caribbean shoreline, and produces 2.2 million barrels a day. This production and government subsidies ensures that the population has the cheapest petroleum in the world, $0.02 (€0.014) a litre at the pumps.

They are no longer South America's 'Cinderella'
The Vinotinto used to be regarded as little more than a joke by their South American rivals, given the nickname 'Cinderella' - although unfortunately, it has nothing to do with not being able to get to the ball on time. Previously an easy target to pick up three points against in the Copa and the WCQs, with quality players such as Tomas Rincon (left) the Vinotinto are now regarded as a serious match for anyone; and victory against Paraguay would offer even further evidence.

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