Saturday, 23 July 2011

Copa América review: BOLIVIA

Continuing on with my series of nation-by-nation reviews, we move on to this year's 11th ranked side, BOLIVIA.

Ranked 93rd in the world and without a win away from home since 2007, no-one was really expecting much from Bolivia in this Copa América. Furthermore they were drawn into Group A alongside Argentina, Colombia and Costa Rica, and even given the 'honour' of playing the hosts in the tournament's opening match. In the end they only managed to register a paltry one point, but that certainly does not tell the full story of their campaign.

The manager Gustavo Quinteros - a member of the Bolivian team when they last qualified for a World Cup in 1994 - selected a well-balanced and experienced 23-man squad, with only five of them playing their club football outside of Bolivia. La Verde shocked everyone when they managed to draw 1x1 with Argentina in the tournament's opening match, but they later succumbed to two 2x0 defeats against Costa Rica and Colombia. 

Tactically Quinteros had Bolivia set up in a very simple fashion, a defensive 4-4-2 with two solid banks of four playing behind the forwards. Their style worked superbly against Argentina's 4-3-3 in the first game, but struggled in the other two games when they were expected to play more football.

Against Argentina, Bolivia were excellent, staying compact and narrow and giving nothing away to Argentina's jewel-encrusted forward line. Team captain Ronald Raldes in particular gave a fabulous performance in the centre of defence; constantly spurning the hosts' attacking advances.
Line-ups vs. Argentina. (Note Bolivia's two narrow defensive lines, congesting the play and frustrating their opponents)
Bolivia took a surprise lead at the start of the second half when Argentina's Éver Banega let a back heel from Edivaldo Rojas sneak under his foot and roll into the net, and at that moment it looked like la Verde might manoeuvre a famous victory in La Plata. Their defence remained resolute, but eventually they conceded an equaliser through a stunning volley from substitute Sergio Agüero.

The script was quite different for their next match against Costa Rica, as Bolivia were coaxed into opening up and trying to win the match. They lined yp with a 4-4-2 again, but against Costa Rica's unorthodox 3-5-2/3-3-4 formation they ran in to real problems. This game will be discussed further when we cover Costa Rica, but essentially Bolivia's rigid shape struggled to deal with Costa Rica's fluidity and they found it hard to track the forward runs of the Costa Rican midfield.

Bolivia ended up losing the match 2x0, and things got even worse with the sending off of both Ronald Rivero and Walter Flores. This left la Verde needing a win in their final group match against the impressive Colombia to retain any chance of qualifying.

In that match against los Cafeteros in Santa Fe, Bolivia fielded a partially changed side due to the suspensions to Rivero and Flores. Santos Amador and Ronald García filled in at central defence and central midfield respectively, while there was a change at full-back, Christian Vargas coming in to replace Gutiérrez.

Bolivia looked to try and stay narrow like against Argentina, but Colombia's rampaging full-backs made that impossible, leaving the Bolivia defence stretched and full of holes. Colombia's wide midfielders Ramos and Moreno were happy to stay more central and occupy the Bolivia full-backs, which left Colombia's full-backs Armero and Zúñiga with the entire flank to operate in.
Formations vs. Colombia [Note how Vargas (14) and Álvarez (4) are occupied, allowing Colombia to control the flanks]
Despite this obvious advantage down the flanks for Colombia, the first goal went in courtesy of a through ball through the centre of the Bolivia defence. Lacking the regular partnership of Rivero and Raldes, Bolivia looked shaky and disorganised, and a well-timed run from Falcao left him clear on goal and allowed him to finish well.

The second goal however, was a prime example of Colombia's dominance on the wings. Pablo Armero made a huge run down the left flank, burst into the area and was tripped for a penalty. Falcao coolly dispatched the spot-kick and Bolivia were well and truly sank.

Looking back on the tournament, the Bolivia squad and staff will probably be quite disappointed. Despite punching considerably above their weight with their performance in the opening match, they still finished fourth in the group and only managed to score one goal. However there were certainly some huge positives to take from the tournament, namely the draw against Argentina in front of a capacity crowd in La Plata.

Now Bolivia will have their eyes on the 2014 World Cup qualifying, where they will attempt to pull off a few more famous results. At home in La Paz, they are capable of beating any opposition, but their main focus will be to improve their dreadful away record.  


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