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National Team Overview: Bolivia

Bolivian national team against Greece celebration

Bolivia disappeared in the misty nineties to pull out occasional upsets in their capital 3,600 meters above sea level.

Bolivia and football mentioned together means disaster for those, who bet on sports in the US. The national team nicknamed El Verde (The Greens) and Germany had to open the 1994 World Cup, a tournament partially organized to popularize soccer in the United States, but with their awful display the Bolivians managed to scare off even those, who were interested in the sport.


• The highlanders of South America
• Beat anybody at 3,600 above sea level
• Won the Copa in 1963

That came after a superb run in the World Cup qualifiers and was followed by an impressive performance at the Copa America on home soil three years later, indicating that Bolivia actually weren’t that bad they pretended to be when playing in the States.

The elevation

They put together a respectable campaign in the South American qualification series for the 1994 World Cup, beating Brazil on the run, the team that eventually lifted the trophy in Pasadena. However, any Bolivian footballing success should be taken with a pinch of salt, as they tend to play their most important matches in La Paz, more than 3,600 meters above sea level, making it impossible for most of their opponents to produce a decent performance.

The crowd at Estadio Hernando Siles, one of the highest sitting football stadiums of the world, witnessed a few big upsets so far against teams who weren’t able to deal with the thin air. Argentina, managed by Diego Maradona, were one of those in 2009, suffering a horrific 6-1 defeat, the heaviest loss in the history of the Albiceleste. FIFA limited World Cup qualifiers previously to the altitude of 2,500 meters above sea level after a lot of complaints were made towards matches played in Bolivia, however international football’s governing body later raised the limit and El Verde have been playing home matches in La Paz since.

Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz
The elevation also helped Bolivia to achieve their only victory at the Copa America in 1963. That tournament was played in a league format with the participation of seven teams. Bolivia, playing their matches in La Paz and in Cochabamba, 3,600 and 2,500 meters above the sea level, after a 4-4 draw against Ecuador in the opening game of the tournament, won their five remaining outings to claim the nation’s first continental title. In the 1997 Copa America, on home soil once again, they finished as runners-up to achieve their greatest success since 1963, winning all of their matches before losing in the title decider against Brazil.

Etcheverry, the Devil

The biggest star of the 1997 team was Marco Etcheverry, who is considered as the greatest Bolivian player ever. The attacking midfielder nicknamed “El Diablo” spent his most remarkable years at DC United in the MLS between 1996 and 2003, but by the most punters involved in internet betting in the US, he is remembered for his red card from 1994 in the first place.

With down to 1-0, he was sent in the 79th minute against Germany in the opening game of the World Cup only to be sent off three minutes later for kicking Lothar Matthaus after the two clashed. Though picking up a point against South Korea in a goalless draw, after a defeat against Spain without their best player, Bolivia finished fourth in Group C and helplessly crashed out in their last World Cup to date.

Martins is the star

Marcelo Martins
The most recognized Bolivian player at the moment is the 27-year-old striker, Marcelo Martins, who is currently with Changchun Yatai in China. He previously played in several Brazilian outfits including Cruzeiro, Gremio and Flamengo, but he was employed by Ukranian star team Shakhtar Donetsk between 2008 and 2011, spending loan spells at Werder Bremen and Wigan Athletic. Born to a Brazilian father, he represented Brazil at youth level but chose to play for Bolivia as a senior. He is selected regularly to the national team since 2007, and he was in the side that famously defeated Argentina 6-1 in 2009, scoring the hosts first goal.

Prediction

For this year’s Copa America to be held in Chile, Bolivia were drawn to Group A and they will kick off against Mexico, then will entertain Ecuador, to wrap up the group stage against the hosts. They are expected to finish fourth in their quartet, being obvious outsiders according to online sportsbooks in the US. However, if they managed to salvage a point from their opener against Mexico, that would be a considerable boost for their next match.

Then with a win against Ecuador they could accomplish a surprise advance to the knockout phase. This is easier said than done though, so maybe the best method is to watch El Verde first against Mexico, then think about whether to count on them or not. A sole win from them would be some kind of a surprise, so don’t put your house on Bolivia, even if they will look good against El Tri in the first game.

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