Football, as Bolivia will tell you, is all about taking the rough with the smooth. One week the South Americans were parting company with their coach, and the next they were jumping 27 places up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, making them the second-highest climbers in June.
Just one short of their personal best 28-place rise, which they managed in August 1993, Bolivia’s latest surge has taken them to 83rd overall, the first time they have appeared in the top 100 since September 2011, when they occupied the same position.
Though still some way short of the country’s all-time high of 18th, a position reached in July 1997, Bolivia’s latest surge provides welcome encouragement for a side that hit rock-bottom last October in dropping to 115th, their worst-ever placement since the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking’s inception. Their return to the top 100 after a nine-month absence came about thanks to the 1,335 points awarded for their 3-1 defeat of Paraguay in the qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
That win, Bolivia’s first of the qualifying competition, was also coach Gustavo Quinteros’s last game in charge. Argentina-born but a naturalised Bolivian, Quinteros took the job on in November 2010, with the side lying 100th in the ranking.
“My goal is to be getting the maximum from my players come October, when we start our World Cup qualifying campaign in Uruguay,” he told FIFA.com shortly after his appointment. “To do that, we’ll need to go into the Copa America in Argentina with a definite idea of how we want to play.”
Bolivia made an immediate mark in the continental championship by holding the host nation to a draw in their opening game, though that would be the only point they would win. And when the qualifiers for Brazil 2014 got under way, they collected just a solitary point in their first four games, that draw coming against the Argentinians once again in Buenos Aires.
Last month’s defeat of Paraguay appeared to have earned the coach some breathing space, but a disagreement with the Bolivian Football Association (FBF) over working hours led him to resign. The former international defender, who formed part of the Bolivia squad at USA 1994, was in charge of the side for 18 games in all, presiding over two wins (the Paraguay game and a friendly with Cuba), six draws and ten defeats.
Looking to the future
The leading candidate to replace him, according to the FBF and the candidate himself, is Spaniard Xabier Azkargorta. Known in the game as El Bigotón due to his large moustache, the 58-year-old has held the job before, steering Bolivia to their third and last FIFA World Cup appearance at USA 1994, though he did not take charge of the team at the global finals themselves. At the time of writing, however, the post remains vacant.
Whoever takes up the reins will have a difficult but not impossible job in the Brazil 2014 qualifiers. Currently seventh in the nine-team table, with just four points to their name and a third of the matches played, the Bolivians are nevertheless only four points behind Venezuela in the play-off slot, while Ecuador, their next rivals in the competition, are a further point ahead in the final automatic qualifying place.
Bolivia have a matchday off after that game away to the Ecuadorians this September, followed by back-to-back home matches against Peru and Uruguay in October. Those three games will go a long way to deciding the destiny of a still-coachless side yearning for a return to the biggest stage of them all, the FIFA World Cup.