Analysis: Bolivia’s Copa America and Hopes for World Cup Qualification

Bolivia were the first side to be eliminated from the 2011 Copa America, managing just a solitary point from their three group games. It had all started so well for La Verde with a determined performance in a 1-1 draw with hosts Argentina, but successive 2-0 defeats, to Costa Rica and Colombia respectively, condemned Gustavo Quinteros’ men to an early exit.

Tactics

Bolivia adopted a 4-4-2 formation in all three of their matches, although there were certain differences in the way they lined up against Argentina versus how they did so against Costa Rica and Colombia.

versus Argentina

Against Argentina containment was the name of the game and Quinteros therefore set out his side to play fairly deep, with two banks of four leaving the two forwards isolated up front. Argentina played a 4-3-3 formation and began the game with Carlos Tevez and Ezequiel Lavezzi in the wide areas. Quinteros predicted, correctly, that both of these players would look to come inside with the ball rather than take on his full-backs on the outside and thus positioned both Lorgio Alvarez and Luis Gutierrez much further infield than you would usually expect, creating a solid block of defenders in the centre who were able to crowd Argentina’s forwards off the ball when they got in and around the penalty area. The left midfielder Jhasmani Campos did a good job tracking back with Argentina’s right full-back Javier Zanetti, and as their left full-back, Marcos Rojo, rarely showed much inclination to get forward into the final third, Bolivia were not made to suffer for their lack of defensive width.

The central midfield duo of Jaime Robles and Walter Flores battled hard, while the nominal right midfielder Joselito Vaca played very narrow, almost as a third central midfielder, both in and out of possession.

Apart from the threat of Lavezzi making runs in behind on the blindside of Gutierrez – the left back’s lack of concentration and basic positional sense something that would come back to haunt them against Costa Rica – Bolivia were able to limit Argentina’s threat through dogged defending and a fair slice of luck.

In the second half, Argentina coach Sergio Batista introduced Angel Di Maria on the left wing, necessitating Alvarez moving to a more conventional full-back position to meet him head on, but Gutierrez still remained tucked in as he had been first half.

Bolivia were again determined in defence, but eventually conceded in the 75th minute when Sergio Aguero volleyed home a spectacular equaliser from Nicolas Burdisso’s chest down – a superb goal, but one Quinteros might have been a little unhappy about as there was just one Bolivian defender to two Argentine attackers at the far post.

Bolivia offered very little offensively, with Marcelo Moreno Martins up front doing the best he could to make anything out of a myriad of aimless long balls forward by a Bolivian defence collectively hasty in possession. Campos and Vaca rarely got into the game, the latter wilting in the spotlight of the big occasion, while Edivaldo Rojas was a game runner into the channels, but did nothing of any note in open play.

It was Rojas, however, who gave the Bolivians a shock lead just after half-time, backheeling Campos’ low corner goalwards and under the lapse control of Ever Banega on the line. They even had an excellent chance to double their lead when Moreno latched onto Campos’ through-ball, but the Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero did superbly to get a touch on the ball as Moreno tried to round him, and was then up quickly to block the striker’s second attempt at goal.

Late substitutes Juan Carlos Arce and Jose Luis Chavez added energy and invention to the Bolivian attack and combined for a goalbound Chavez shot that was very well blocked by Javier Mascherano.

versus Costa Rica and Colombia

Fresh from their excellent first result, Bolivia went into their match against Costa Rica’s U-23 team looking for the three points that would have all but secured their spot in the quarter finals.

There was one change to the starting eleven, with Arce coming in for the ineffectual Vaca. Rojas was moved out to the right of midfield, with Arce taking on the second striker role just off of Moreno that Rojas had occupied against Argentina. Positionally, both full-backs were pushed out to more standard wider roles and Rojas hugged the right touchline rather than playing infield as Vaca had done from the right in their opening game.

It was clear from the off that Bolivia intended to show more attacking intent than against Argentina, with both full-backs clearly instructed to get forward, although the quality of their crossing was lacking when they did get into advanced positions. The defence played a far higher line than against Argentina, which also pushed the midfield up the field and closer to the two forwards. In Arce, they possessed a second striker of greater energy and better technique than Rojas, and he was able to link up impressively with the more advanced Campos when he drifted over to the left flank. With a severe lack of invention or quality on the ball in the centre of midfield, the bulk of creative responsibility fell on these two and although their interchanges were attractive, they rarely led to a concrete chance on goal, with Arce’s dragged effort across goal early on and Moreno wild air-shot from Arce’s pull-back the only opportunities created.

The problem with trying to force the issue with a higher line was that it left Bolivia’s fairly slow backline exposed to the pace of the young Costa Rican attack and it was this that proved to be their undoing. Costa Rica’s first goal came when Guevera, played onside by Gutierrez, broke through the middle of defence and saw his saved shot fall into the path of Josue Martinez, who bravely prodded home. Costa Rica then won a penalty when, after breaking through the centre of the Bolivia defence, Heiner Mora’s goalbound shot was blocked on the line by the hand of Ronald Rivero, who was given a straight red card. Goalkeeper Carlos Arias did superbly well to save the resulting penalty and rebound, but it was still only a matter of time before Costa Rica added a second, especially so when Bolivia were reduced to nine men thanks to a wild lunge on Joel Campbell by Walter Flores. The inevitable goal came just a couple of minute after Flores’ dismissal, Campbell played onside by Gutierrez – again! – before slotting calmly under Arias.

With Rivero and Flores suspended, and Gutierrez incompetent, there were three changes for the final game against Colombia, with Christian Vargas coming in at right-back – Alvarez moving to left-back – Santos Amador in the centre of defence and Ronald Garcia into central midfield. Despite these changes, the shape was the same as against Costa Rica.

As in that game, it was the link up between Campos and Arce that looked most likely to create something, and it was Campos who had Bolivia’s best efforts on goal, although none of them were particularly great. Bolivia looked to get the ball down and play it around a lot more than in their previous games, but although this suited Campos and Arce, Moreno struggled to get involved, remaining very static and thus getting lost between Colombia’s strong central defensive partnership of Luis Perea and Mario Yepes. There was not as much movement forward from the full-back areas as against Costa Rica, with Vargas neat and tidy in possession but lacking for pace and Alvarez hampered by having to continually cut back onto his favoured right foot. In fact, Bolivia lacked any sort of threat in behind the Colombia backline, playing nice football in front of them but hardly ever penetrating.

Again though, it was a lack of pace and positional sense defensively that cost Bolivia any chance of getting a result. Colombia went ahead on 14 minutes when Falcao took advantage of a miscommunication between Ronald Raldes and Amador in central defence that saw Raldes step up for offside and Amador remain in, racing onto Dayro Moreno’s through ball and finishing past Arias. A quarter hour later it was 2-0, a mixup in midfield leaving Pablo Armero to run into the area, where he was unceremoniously clattered over by Amador, who was lucky to escape without a booking. Falcao stepped up and calmly slotted home the resulting penalty. Colombia repeatedly breached the Bolivian backline, especially in the second half when Bolivia pushed higher up the field in search of goals, and could easily have had two or three additional goals had their finishing been more clinical.

Positives

Positives from the tournament are few and far between, but Quinteros will take some heart from the commitment displayed by his players in their backs to the wall performance against Argentina in the opening game. It was only when he opened the team up a little in the following matches that their faults were exposed.

Aside from that, the partnership between Campos and Arce looked very promising, producing Bolivia’s best moments of play in the tournament. Quinteros will need to find a way of utilising the two of them together in a system that also offers some penetrative options if he is to get the best out of their alliance.

Negatives

Bolivia’s defence, despite being doggedly determined, were cruelly exposed for both pace and positional sense once they were moved higher up the field and this is an area that Quinteros will really need to work on ahead of World Cup qualification. Playing deeper, they can get away with it, but if and when Bolivia need to press the issue by moving higher up the field the current crop of defenders will struggle to cope.

There was a glaring lack of invention in the centre of midfield throughout their three games, which made it hard for moves to be built effectively through midfield, usually resulting in the defence simply slinging long balls forward in the general direction of Moreno. This necessitated Arce dropping deep to combine with Campos, but although they did so well, it meant that Bolivia missed Arce’s pace in the final third, where he could have been making penetrative runs into the channels had their been a creative force deeper to supply him. It is surprising Quinteros didn’t take the opportunity to play Jose Luis Chavez in central midfield for the game against Colombia, as he had looked a bright and capable passer of the ball in his previous substitute appearances. He instead replaced one battle horse with another – Garcia coming in for the suspended Flores.

Moreno played very poorly in their final game against Colombia, neither offering himself as a viable option to Arce or Campos when they were attempting to build play, or looking to make runs in behind the defence. Perhaps he had just grown tired of chasing down the aimless hoofs forward that had been his primary supply line in the opening two games, but more likely he is struggling for match fitness due to his lack of playing time at club level. Right now, he is probably Bolivia’s best striker, but unless he starts to get regular football for his club then Quinteros may be forced to look for other options going forward.

Promising Youngsters

Carlos Arias rarely put a foot wrong between the sticks, but could soon face strong competition for his number one jersey if Romel Quiñónez (19 years old) continues his rapid rise to fame. A graduate of the famous Tahuichi Academy, he made his league debut for Bolivar at the age of 18 in a 1-0 win over Blooming and has since gone on to make a further 15 appearances as understudy to the Argentine Marcos Arguello, impressing with assured performances. He also caught the eye of scouts from English clubs West Bromwich Albion and West Ham as part of Bolivar’s U-19 side at the 2011 Dallas Cup and should he be able to lock down a starting place at Bolivar in the next couple of years could soon be knocking on the door of the full international side.

Bolivia’s U-20 side performed poorly at this year’s South American U-20 Championship in Peru, crashing out in the group stage with one draw and three defeats from their four matches. Few Bolivian players enhanced their reputation at the tournament, but one who did was Darwin Rios (20 years old), scorer of goals against Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador. He spent some time in Russia earlier this year, on trial at FC Alania, but returned to Bolivia to score for Jorge Wilstermann U-20s in a 1-0 win over Paraguay’s Libertad in the inaugural U-20 Copa Libertadores. Now back with the senior squad at Guabira, the club at which he grew up, he will be hoping to build upon his limited first team opportunities to date in the coming season.

Signed by Arsenal in January 2010 after impressing on trial, Samuel Galindo (19 years old) has thus far struggled for first team action, starting just once and making a further six substitute appearances during a season long loan at Spanish Segunda Division side Salamanca in 2010/11. A lanky, left-footed playmaker with good close control and excellent vision, he has all the attributes Bolivia are currently lacking in midfield, and having captained them at U-17 and U-20 level as well as making his full debut in 2010, it can only be a matter of time before he begins to break into the squad on a regular basis. How soon that happens will probably depend on how much first team football he gets at club level next season. Likely to be loaned out once more, he will hope for more action at wherever he ends up.

Hopes for World Cup Qualification

The South American qualifying group for Brazil 2014 is likely to be the most open in a while, with Brazil automatically qualifying as hosts and the remaining nine countries battling it out for four and a half places. It is a situation that theoretically favours one of the smaller nations making a splash, although such is the depth of quality in South America at the moment, you could easily rattle off five countries (Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay) that are the most likely qualifiers and three more (Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru) that could challenge them and who you would expect to finish ahead of Bolivia.

That said, playing their home games at the altitude of La Paz gains Bolivia a significant advantage when they play at home, and if they can begin strongly with a couple of wins in their opening home games then they could be in with a shout. They will play eight times at home during qualification and if they could win say six of those that would gain them 18 points. Last time out, fifth placed finishers Uruguay gained 1.33 points per game, giving a total of approximately 21 points over the 16 games that will be played by each team this time around. That would require Bolivia to pick up just a further three points from their remaining two home fixtures and eight away, which seems possible until you look over their away results in the last qualification group – played nine, won none, drew one, lost eight.

It will be a tall order for Quinteros to mastermind the sort of performances that will be required for Bolivia to have a decent shot at qualification. He will need to address the pace and positional problems in defence, find a creative midfielder that allows Arce to exploit his pace higher up the field and solve their goalscoring problem without any obvious candidates to replace Moreno should his relatively poor form continue. Miracles do sometimes happen, but at this stage it is hard to see Bolivia qualifying for Brazil 2014.

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