CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela defender Wilker Ángel was eager for South American World Cup qualifiers to start this week despite the COVID-19 pandemic still having a hard impact on the region.
It was his national team's call up for the two opening rounds of qualifying that allowed him to finally return home and meet Mía, his second daughter, who was born in March.
The 27-year-old Angel, who plays for Akhmat Grozny in the Russian league, had a tearful gathering with his wife and two daughters in Venezuela shortly before the team's trip to Colombia for Friday's game in Barranquilla.
Ángel saw his wife Fabiola and his two daughters in La Guaira, 12 miles (20 kilometres ) north of Caracas, where the squad had been preparing until Wednesday morning.
“Only God knows how hard this was,” Ángel wrote in a video posting on Instagram. “Although I could see them only for a few minutes, they filled my heart and soul.”
Fabiola stayed in Venezuela since the beginning of the year so Mía could be born close to the couple's families. Ángel was expected to be back for the delivery, but then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Venezuelan authorities have suspended commercial flights to the South American nation.
Wilker was allowed to leave Russia in July, but it wasn't for a good reason; he had surgery in the U.S. for a left elbow injury. By then it was still unknown whether South American World Cup qualifiers would be go ahead this year.
Only in mid-September FIFA allowed the opening rounds to be scheduled and start this week, after most local authorities were convinced to lift quarantine measures for incoming players.
Angel is expected to be on the bench against Colombia, but Venezuelan fans who felt moved by his encounter with Mía are campaigning online for him to get onto the field, even if it is for a few minutes.
Venezuela has had more than 80,000 positive COVID-19 cases and about 680 deaths.
Venezuela's COVID-19 figures are smaller than other countries in the hard-hit region, including Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru.
AP Sports Writer Savarese reported from Sao Paulo.
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Jorge Rueda And Mauricio Savarese, The Associated Press