Joaquin Botero and Bolivia are riding the crest of a wave, with player and country alike still basking in the remarkable 6-1 thrashing of Argentina in 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying. Nor was La Verde's No9 involved in a mere supporting role, with the striker for Mexican second-tier outfit Correcaminos helping himself to a hat-trick in a historic match for Bolivian football.
And though the encounter on 1 April 2009 in La Paz will always have a special place in Botero's heart, the 31-year-old frontrunner has no intention of resting on his laurels, as he told FIFA.com.
One for the history books
"I'm so happy. It's not every day that you score three times against Argentina and I'm hoping to continue in the same vein," said Botero, who leads the scorers' charts in the South American Zone with eight goals from just six qualifying appearances.
"We were a bit put out that the Argentinian players were getting more attention in Bolivia than we were, so we set out to prove just how good we were," continued La Verde's all-time leading scorer. "The fans were pleased and happy afterwards; it took us ages to get from the stadium to our hotel. Teams virtually never put six goals past Argentina! It's wonderful to be able to give our countrymen something to celebrate, because they're suffering a lot and recent years haven't been easy."
The win took Bolivia's tally in South American qualifying to 12 points, though they remain five behind fifth place, which would secure them a play-off match against a CONCACAF representative. Though fully aware of the difficulty of the task ahead, Botero refused to write off his team just yet. "It's difficult, but mathematically we've still got a chance. While we still have that we'll keep fighting. We've got tough games left but we'll never give up the ghost."
That said, the forward is not convinced the Bolivian national squad are capable of a matching the heroics of the team which reached USA 1994, La Verde's last appearance at the FIFA World Cup finals. "Up to now we've not had the good fortune to have a great crop of players like the class of '94. I don't know what's going on right now, but it's clear that we're still lacking a lot of things [if we want] to bring those times back."
Back in focus
On a personal note, his performance against Diego Maradona's charges was a welcome return to the limelight for a man who shot to stardom in 2002 with 49 league goals for La Paz outfit Bolivar. "It's not like I've had a dip in form," said Botero. "After a really nice period at [UNAM] Pumas in Mexico I went to Argentina to join San Lorenzo, but I had personal problems there and decided to quit. I didn't play for nine months and was a bit lost, but then I got back on track with Bolivar (in 2008) and now I'm really happy at Correcaminos."
Like many other South American players past and present, there is little doubt that Botero feels at home in the Mexican game. "They treated me really well at Pumas and I'll always have the fact that I was a two-time Mexican champion with them," said the player in reference to UNAM's 2004 Clausura and Apertura triumphs. "That's what made me want to come back to the country and try and achieve good things here. I've got a contract until December and I'm happy and relaxed, though I would like to play in the first division again."
That ambition should be well within his reach should he continue his fine run of goals and form for Bolivia, but Botero is determined not to think too far ahead. "I'm still not thinking about the future," he said, as the interview drew to a close. "I've got several years of my playing career left and for now I'm just going to enjoy them. Then we'll see what happens."