Brazil have had the edge on Argentina in the Copa America in recent times, defeating their fierce rivals in the last two finals, and they maintained their hold in the opening game of this year’s tournament, albeit in indirect fashion.
Lining up for Bolivia in their 1-1 draw with the hosts in La Plata yesterday was Edivaldo Rojas, an attacking midfielder born in the Brazilian city of Cuiaba to a Bolivian mother and a Brazilian father. And, as fate would have it, it was the 25-year-old who put Los Altiplanos in the lead and on the way to a valuable point that few had given them much hope of claiming.
Edivaldo’s long road to his startling international debut began in the country of his birth, where he made his debut with Atletico Paranaense before crossing the Atlantic to join Portugal’s Naval. After being nicknamed ‘Bolivia’ by his team-mates, he decided to wear his new moniker on the back of his shirt, and when Bolivia coach Gustavo Quinteros offered him the chance to join the national team in May, the tall attacking midfielder had no hesitation in accepting.
“I’ve got Bolivian blood inside me, and I’ve always identified with the national team,” said the goal hero. “That’s mainly because of my mother, but also because I’ve still got good friends from the four or five years I spent in San Matias.”
Edivaldo’s love affair with Bolivia strengthened further after 47 minutes of the Copa America opener, when his audacious back-heel from a low corner found its way past Ever Banega at the near post and squeezed over the line.
Launching into a heartfelt celebration, the new boy kissed the badge on his shirt as the 3,000-strong Bolivian contingent in the stands, among them President Evo Morales, went wild. And though Sergio Aguero later levelled the game with a superb volley, the No7 had every reason to be delighted with his goal and industrious all-round performance.
“I was delighted I scored, but the thing that stood out for me was the team’s commitment,” said Edivaldo. “We didn’t buckle against a side with so many great players like Argentina, and we showed we can dream of big things here.
“It’s a very important result for us. It’s going to give us the belief to keep on improving, which I think we can do. Psychologically, we couldn’t have made a better start.”
Flying in the face of history
The statistics suggested the Bolivians would be in for a barren night. In their 11 Copa America meetings with Argentina outside La Paz, the Bolivians had lost ten and drawn one.
Given that grim record, coach Quinteros, who was born in Argentina but is now a Bolivian national, was understandably delighted with the stalemate: “There weren’t many who expected us to get something out of this game, but we proved we’re on the right track. This 1-1 draw is vital to what lies ahead.”
In the opinion of Quinteros, La Verde’s tactical astuteness and their early arrival in Argentina were crucial to their flying start: “We’re not surprised with what we’ve achieved because things worked out how we’d planned. We were solid and organised and I think you could tell we’d been together for a few days.”
The only negative point for the Bolivia was their wayward finishing, which spared their hosts from an even worse fate. “We could have settled things when [Marcelo] Martins was clean through on goal, though their keeper did well and kept the game alive for them,” lamented Quinteros. “Let’s hope we can maintain our rhythm against Costa Rica and Colombia, and become a competitive side that’s respected and can take on anyone.”
Judging by their solid evening’s work in La Plata, Bolivia are well on the way to achieving that goal.