By Chris Swallow
With a population of just 10 million it’s no surprise that Bolivia have failed to make an impact on the world stage, unlike neighbours Brazil and Argentina.
Bolivia will travel to Argentina hoping to emulate the title winning team of 1963, however most fans will probably just be happy to end a run of 1st round eliminations which stretches back to 1999.
History in International Football:
Despite participating in the inaugural World Cup in 1930 and again in 1950, Bolivia did not qualify for another tournament for another 44 years.
There was renewed optimism going into USA 94’ after a qualifying campaign that boasted a record of 5 wins out of a possible 8 including a famous 2:0 win over Brazil, the latter’s first defeat in 40 years of qualifying. The Bolivian squad also included legendary midfielder Marco Etcheverry, nicknamed El Diablo a creative force in the team. However, any hopes quickly diminished after an opening day defeat against Germany in which Etcheverry was sent off minutes after entering the game for kicking Lothar Matthaus. A draw against South Korea and a 3-1 loss to Spain followed as Bolivia excited the Finals without a whimper. The one noteworthy event was Erwin Sanchez scoring Bolivia’s one and only goal in a World Cup Finals. They have not qualified for a tournament since, but despite this they have managed to record some impressive results including wins over Argentina and Brazil during qualifying.
Copa America Record:
Surprisingly for such a small nation, Bolivia has relatively impressive history in the Copa America, despite not participating until the 10th year of the tournament.
From their first outing in 1926 – 1953 their best position was fourth place in the competition until 1963 when Bolivia was awarded hosting rights for the competition; Chile and Uruguay withdrew whilst Venezuela decided not to enter. The tournament was still called the South American Championship and followed a league structure, meaning that Bolivia would have to play against every other team once. With a record of 5 wins and 1 draw including wins against 12 times winners Argentina and 3 times winners Brazil, Bolivia racked up a near perfect 11 points out of 12 on the way to their one and only success. Striker Victor Ugarte wrote himself into the history books with two goals which put him 1st in the all time goal scorers list. A record which lasted until 2009 when in another great win over Argentina, Joaquin Botero scored a hat trick to move onto 17. By the time he retired, Botero had scored 20 goals for Bolivia.
Domestic game in Bolivia:
Domestic football in Bolivia has seen many a bizarre story in recent years, from the President kicking a competitor during a friendly; to a town kidnapping their football team due to poor performance. The two most successful clubs in Bolivia are Bolivar (17 titles) and The Strongest (7 titles).
Unlike leagues such as England and Spain, no particular team dominates the league with 4 different winners of the Liga de Futbol Professional in the last four years. The league follows the Opening/Closing format of many South American countries.
On the continental stage, Bolivia has failed to impose themselves with success in the Copa Libertadores – the South American Champions League non-existent, with no Bolivian winners or finalists in the history of the tournament.
Easily the biggest club in Bolivia, Bolivar, from the city of La Paz reached the semi-final of the Copa Libertadores in 1986, but their biggest achievement by far is reaching the Copa Sudamericana final in 2004. They started off in the Preliminary’s defeating Aurora 5-2 over two legs and followed this up with a 4-2 aggregate win over U. de Concepcion in the quarterfinalist qualification stage. The quarterfinal stages brought a tie against Arsenal of Argentina which they overcame 3-1 on aggregate going through to the semis and a tie against Ecuadorean league champions LDU Quito for a place in the final. They scraped past LDU Quito 3-2 to set up an historic final against Boca Juniors which would also be played over two legs. Bolivia used home advantage to good effect starting with a 1-0 win; however, success would evade them as Boca Juniors came alive in the second leg winning 2-0 to clinch their maiden Copa Sudamericana.
La Verde will arrive in Argentina with a squad largely comprised of domestic based players. Only a handful of players ply their trade abroad, most notably captain Ronald Raldes who is the most experienced player in the squad with 53 caps, Raldes plays for Colon of Argentina.
The goalkeeping position could be up for grabs as current number one Carlos Arias is currently a free agent and a lack of competitive football could count against him. Other options will include the experienced duo of Sergio Galarza and Daniel Vaca who have 14 and 2 caps respectively.
Defensively, Captain Ronald Raldes is a regular for Colon and has made 53 international appearances and will most likely line up alongside Ronald Rivero of Bolivar in a central defensive partnership. Luis Gutierrez will take the left-back berth with Oriente Petrolero teammate Miguel Hoyos slotting in on the right.
Bolivia will most likely line up with a four-man midfield with Joselito Vaca the creative spark of the team supporting a lone striker or a 4-4-2. Coach Gustavo Quinteros hasn’t settled on a final midfield four and has been testing various combinations to find his best line-up. However, it is likely that Ronald Garcia will take the holding midfielder role, with Jaime Robles, Rudy Cardozo, Jhasmani Campos and Walter Alberto Flores competing for the midfield positions.
Up front, if Bolivia line up in a 4-4-2 then Marcelo Moreno will most likely line up next to Juan Carlos Arce, with Arce coming in from wide and Moreno lining up through the middle. However, if as is likely they line up with a five man midfield, then Marcelo Moreno will be expected to lead the line alone. Moreno hasn’t been in particularly fine form, consecutive loan spells at Werder Bremen and then Wigan yielded no goals, however, when he pulls on a Bolivian shirt all bets are off; Moreno has scored 8 goals in 18 caps.
Players to Watch:
Bolivia’s main threat is Marcelo Moreno, who despite having a poor run of form at club level, has enjoyed his time with the national squad. If he can continue to play well at international level, then he can be a threat to any defense.
Joselito Vaca will pull the strings in midfield, keeping the ball moving, and looking for any opportunity to unlock the defense. Moreno and Vaca playing well is the key to Bolivia’s success, they need to get on the same wavelength early in the tournament if La Verde will have any hope of going further than the group stages.
Twitter – @chrisswallow88