West Brom match-winner Rondon eyes World Cup lift

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LONDON: A winning goal on the opening day of the Premier League season augurs well for Salomon Rondon and Venezuela as he gears up for World Cup qualifiers next month that include a home tie with Lionel Messi’s Argentina.

The burly forward’s 74th-minute header gave West Bromwich Albion a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

He was the only striker on the pitch who looked like scoring having also had a fine header saved by the diving Wayne Hennessey in the ninth minute.

“I’m happy because of the goal and the work of the team,” said Rondon, West Brom’s top scorer last season. “It’s a pretty tough league, very competitive, demanding.

“We’ve started off on the right foot, let’s hope it carries on like this,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“With my national team we’ve got qualifiers against Colombia (away) in Barranquilla and then Argentina in Venezuela,” he said looking ahead to World Cup, South American ties on Sept. 1 and 6.

“Let’s hope we carry on like we left off at the Copa America.”

Venezuela reached the quarter-finals of the centenary tournament in the United States in June before losing 4-1 to Argentina.

Coach fired

They had sacked coach Noel Sanvicente after languishing bottom of the 10-nation qualifiers with one point from six matches and replaced him with Rafael Dudamel as they seek a first-ever place at the World Cup finals.

“We are working hard, we have a new coaching staff, we had a great Copa America, recovering the form we had lost,” said Rondon.

“Let’s hope the qualifiers are positive for us, we’re playing at home (against Argentina) and we hope to tot up points which is what we need.”

Like many players, Rondon did not believe for a minute that Messi would stick to his decision in June to quit international football after losing the Copa America on penalties to Chile, his fourth final defeat with Argentina.

“It’s very unlikely that a player of Messi’s class would leave the national team, more than anything for what he means to football and his team,” he said.

The Argentina captain announced on Friday he was playing on for his country and was named in their squad to face Uruguay and Venezuela next month.

“We’re talking of the best player in the world and I think that for Argentina and their players it’s good he should be back and not so much for their opponents,” he added with a grin.