CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The coach of Venezuela's under-20 women's national soccer team has been fired after claiming that his players were suffering from malnutrition in the crisis-wracked nation.

The Venezuelan Soccer Federation said in a statement Tuesday that it was firing Kenneth Zseremeta because of the squad's poor on-the-field performance. Despite being favored to win, the team finished third out of five at the Bolivarian Games this month in Colombia.

After the competition, the Panamanian-born Zseremeta praised the players for their on-field grit in the face of what he described as a "tremendously" poor state of nutrition.

"When they give me the test results showing malnutrition, I start to tear up," Zseremeta said in remarks broadcast on Globovision.

The comments touched a nerve among Venezuelans who are struggling to feed themselves as the oil-rich economy craters under triple-digit inflation and widespread food and medicine shortages. But Venezuelan soccer authorities dismissed the idea, saying that top-flight players like the women on the national squad are largely insulated from the country's food crisis and eat five meals a day when training for competitions.

At least seven players on the team suffered from either malnutrition or were at nutritional risk, according to an undated medical report allegedly prepared by Venezuela's sports ministry and published by local newspaper El Nacional. The Associated Press was unable to verify the authenticity of the report.

Zseremeta led the women's national team to the semifinals of the under-17 World Cup in 2014, the first time a Venezuelan team in any category, male or female, had gone so far in a global tournament.

After his firing, Zseremeta stood by his earlier comments and called on FIFA to investigate Venezuela's Sports Minister, Pedro Infante, for interfering in the country's soccer federation, where he's now vice president.

"Venezuela isn't far off from being sanctioned," he told AEV Stereo, a Venezuelan-run radio network based in Orlando, Florida.

He said that, among other obstacles, his players had to travel more than 24 hours by bus from Caracas to participate in the recent Bolivarian Games.

"We had to travel by land and they expected us to bring home the gold?," he asked.