Bolivia seek light at the end of the tunnel
Bolivia rose 22 places in the latest edition of the FIFA Ranking
Occupying 46, it’s La Verde’s best position since 2013
Coach Soria: “We’re growing as a team” **
Rebuilding is never the easiest of tasks, with its inherent ups and downs. Every now and then, however, there appears a shaft of light, a promise of brighter days ahead. In the case of Bolivia, their 22-place climb to 46th in the latest FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking is one such glimmer of hope.
Boosted by the recent defeat of Chile in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifiers, the Bolivians have now risen to their highest position in the Ranking since March 2013, when they lay 37th. One month later they dropped out of the top 50, never to return until now, some 54 months on.
La Verde have been on the rise ever since Mauricio Soria took over as coach in December 2016, when they were languishing in 95th place.
Bolivia in the Ranking
Highest position: 18th, in August 1997
Lowest position: 115th, in October 2011
Average position: 73rd
Best ever rise: 35 places, in September 2016
Bolivia’s improvement on the pitch has been marked in recent months. Though they will once again be absent from the next world finals, as has been the case since USA 1994, there is no denying that Soria’s side have regained their competitive edge.
“The idea is to develop, no matter how,” said the coach. “Bolivia need to play a very tactical game to make up for shortcomings. We need to evolve, and whenever we go away from home we need to play the same way we do in La Paz.”
Though they have yet to replicate their home performances on the road, the Bolivians did manage to make life difficult for Colombia in Medellin and Peru in Lima, only to fall to narrow defeats on both occasions.
“Since taking over the national team we’ve managed to give it an identity, and not just the seniors,” added the 51-year-old coach. “We also coached the U-20 and U-17 sides, where they’ve been playing a similar a style in all the groups we’ve taken charge of.
“In Lima, for example, you could see what we’re trying to achieve, which is for the players from our country to give a tactical response to every challenge.”
On top of all that, Soria also seems to have made the Estadio Hernando Siles a fortress once more, masterminding wins there over both Argentina and Chile this year, results that have put both sides’ Russia 2018 qualification hopes in serious jeopardy.
In assessing the defeat of La Roja, Soria had this to say: “We’re growing as a team and we’ve been making progress in the last few games. We can keep hold of the ball and we cause opposing sides problems with our crosses into the box. We’re delighted with the win.”
A fine blend While Soria has drawn on experience in the shape of thirty-somethings Ronald Raldes, Pablo Escobar, Juan Carlos Arce and Marcelo Martins, he has also handed an increasingly prominent role to a younger group of players who ought to be heavily involved in the Qatar 2022 qualifiers. They include Diego Bejarano, Gonzalo Valverde, Jorge Flores and Leonel Justiniano, all of them aged between 23 and 27.
Then there comes the new generation, with U-20 players such as goalkeeper Ruben Cordano, central defender Luis Haquin, defensive midfielder Moises Villarroel, midfielder Henry Vaca and the forward Bruno Miranda all gaining valuable experience at full international level.
Soria made his objective clear at the start of the year: “To build a side with young players and give them exposure this year and next, so that they will be ready for the next qualifying competition.”
All the signs are there for Bolivia. Only time will tell if they point to a long-awaited return to the World Cup stage.