As Marcelo Martins knows, the margin for error is slim to say the least. With six matchdays and five games remaining in the South American qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, and with his side lying eighth in the nine-team group, the Bolivia striker is aware that the odds are against them claiming a place in the world finals.
That said, the Flamengo man, who turns 26 on 18 June, has not given up hope of appearing in the biggest tournament of all in the country he now calls home.
Having collected nine points to date, Bolivia entertain fifth-placed Venezuela, who have 15 points to their name, in La Paz on Friday. Four days later comes a trip to Santiago to take on fourth-placed Chile.
Both dates are key to Bolivia’s chances, and as Martins explained neither he nor his team-mates can afford to spurn the opportunities that come their way in the days ahead.
“Goalkeepers can’t make mistakes and neither can strikers,” he told FIFA.com. “I know I’ve got to look for the ball and make the most of all the chances that fall to me. I’m really focused on these games. I know I can help and I’ll fight to the end to take my team to the World Cup.”
Though Bolivia’s task is far from easy, they are not the only team to have had a rough ride in the qualifiers. There is little to choose between the continent’s sides these days, which has spelled trouble for traditional powerhouses like Uruguay, who lie sixth, and Paraguay, currently propping up the table.
“There’s definitely more competition than in previous qualifying competitions,” said Moreno, who believes that could yet work in Bolivia’s favour: “Every team is still in the fight and that means anything could happen between now and the end.”
The much-travelled centre-forward, who has played for Brazilian clubs Vitoria, Cruzeiro and Gremio as well as Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine, Werder Bremen of Germany, and English Premier League side Wigan Athletic, is experienced enough to know that Bolivia’s urgent need to win cannot distract them from their gameplan. In his opinion, what they need to do is take their form in La Paz, where they have won eight of their nine points, and replicate it on the road.
“That doesn’t mean to say we should go for broke and attack at all costs,” he explained. “We have to play an intelligent game and keep our heads. That way we can play our best football and create chances. Venezuela have come on a lot in the last few years and Chile have always been a strong side. We don’t expect to get any gifts in either game.”
Big ambitions with Flamengo
Martins arrived in Brazil at the age of 17 and has spent most of his career there. Discussing his time in the country often referred to as the world’s biggest football academy, he said: “It’s a place that’s welcomed me with open arms and I feel at ease here. Playing in the World Cup here would be a dream, and not just for me but for my family, my friends and my country too. Bolivia hasn’t been in the world finals since 1994, which is a pretty long time, and we want to take the country back to the world elite. We want to make history.”
Having moved to Flamengo, Martins’ is also relishing the chance to play at the Maracana, a stadium he has only seen on TV, before and after its refurbishment.
“It’s been the setting for so many of Flamengo’s triumphs and achievements that I just can’t wait to play in this jersey in what is one of the game’s temples,” he said.
His relationship with O Rubro-Negro has started promisingly, the striker having scored one goal in the three appearances he has made to date, two of them as part of the starting XI. Though Fla are still looking for their first win in the Brazilian championship, Martins believes the team will improve as he finds his feet.
And as he went on to explain, the club have big ambitions for the year ahead: “The team is still taking shape and finding its way. I know we haven’t matched the fans’ expectations in our opening games, but we’ve got a long break for the Confederations Cup coming up and that will give us the time to work on things and go on and get the results we’re looking for.
“The Libertadores is the first objective to my mind. If we can get the team in shape, I’m sure that with our fans behind us we’ll be right in the mix for the title.”