“People wonder how I can be so optimistic about it, but I just am. I believe we’re a lot closer to being able to qualify for Brazil 2014 than many people think.” It is a bold statement, especially coming from Bolivia’s Gustavo Quinteros, the newly-appointed coach of a country not generally considered to be among the elite of world football.
With just ten months to go before the start of the South American qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, Quinteros’ assertion has understandably raised a few eyebrows. However, when you take a closer look at this nationalised Bolivian and what he has achieved, you can see where his optimism comes from.
A coach coming of age
Born Gustavo Domingo Quinteros Desabato in Santa Fe, Argentina, on 5 February 1965, he would get his first taste of professional football with then third-division side Talleres de Remedio de Escalada in 1987. His career only really took off the following year on moving to Bolivia, where he would eventually play for Universitario, The Strongest and San Jose. A skilful central defender with good aerial ability and a potent strike, Quinteros caught the eye of then Bolivia coach Xabier Azkargorta, who handed him his debut during the qualifiers for USA ‘94.
“That was a great team. When we played in La Paz we felt invincible, although we also got results on the road. Our qualification was a result of everything coming together,” he tells FIFA.com. “I was part of it, which is why I say we can make it to Brazil 2014. I believe in the work we’re doing and in Bolivia’s players. We know it will be a long and difficult road, but I’m convinced we can put together a team capable of competing for a qualification berth,” insists the 26-time international.
Quinteros also ran out for Argentinian sides San Lorenzo and Argentinos Juniors before calling time on his playing career in 1999. His first coaching position followed in 2003, when he went back to Almagro to take charge of the Sanlorencista youth team. In 2005 he became head coach of Bolivian outfit Blooming, leading them to a league title that year. Further league successes would follow with Bolivar in 2009 and Oriente Petrolero this year, before he left to take up the Bolivia job on 5 November.
“It’s true, things have gone well for my staff and I at club level. We’ve won titles and left good legacies. People have always said that to me, and even more so now that now that I’m in this job. However, with that comes a big responsibility. This opportunity came along at the best moment in my career, but it’s a challenge that’s as risky as it’s appealing.”
Putting his stamp on the team
Though Quinteros has still to make his debut as national team coach, he is very clear on what needs to be done: “My first thought was that we needed to start again from scratch – build a new team in every sense. The lack of confidence among the players and fans has caused the team to enter a downward spiral, and the poor results are a reflection of that. My first objective, therefore, is to rebuild that mutual identity.”
And how exactly does he intend to do that? “By restoring confidence to the players so they perform even better with the national team than they do with their clubs. Right now the opposite is the case: the Bolivia jersey weighs heavily on them.” The coach also feels that respecting the qualities of his players will be key. “Given that Bolivian players have very good technique, we need to put together a team that, with tactical discipline, will be able to capitalise on that skill. There’s no point in my trying to build a side based on physicality if my players don’t have that characteristic.”
Asked if the possession-based game mastered by Spain is his model, Quinteros is quick to clarify. “Who wouldn’t like to be compared with Spain, but we’re realists. What they do is very, very hard to achieve. I love the way they play, but I also love the way Uruguay play on the counter-attack, how Paraguay defend, how Germany and the Netherlands go forward. Each team, in their own way, makes the best use of their players. That’s what I want for Bolivia.”
Looking ahead to 2011, the coach is clear about his targets. “My goal is to be getting the maximum from my players come October, when we start our World Cup qualifying campaign in Uruguay. To do that, we’ll need to go into [next July’s] Copa America in Argentina with a definite idea of how we want to play – one that we can put into practice and later fine tune depending on how things go. That said, our goal there has to be at least to make the second round.”
The irony he will make his tournament debut in his native Argentina is not lost on Quinteros, although he insists it can be a good thing. “I see it as an extra motivation, but only because of the quality of host nation. Like all Bolivians, I admire Argentinian football, which is why it’ll be a nice chance to see where we are at. One thing’s for sure: we’ll need to play out of our skins if we’re to beat them [in our Group A encounter],” he says with smile. He’s also certain there will be no repeat of the 6-1 mauling Bolivia handed La Alibiceleste in the South Africa 2010 qualifiers. “That was a freak result, nigh on impossible to repeat, especially on this occasion.”
As our conversation comes to a close, Quinteros returns to the subject of Brazil 2014. “It’s imperative we make La Paz a fortress, but we cannot go away from home just hoping not to lose. We have to take the game to our opponents, which is why we need that clear strategy I spoke of before. With hard work, sacrifice and discipline, I’m convinced we can compete for the fourth or fifth qualifying berth alongside the likes of Ecuador, Chile and Colombia.”