New Bolivia boss Soria has a mountain to climb in Copa America
There is always an advantage to being considered an underdog and unknown quantity, and Bolivia (rank outsiders at 100/1 with Coral to win the tournament outright) can certainly be considered that, having named just four foreign-based players in their Copa America training camp squad.
New El Verde coach Mauricio Soria, only appointed permanently in January, has his work cut out to navigate a tricky Pool A, also featuring hosts Chile (4/1) plus Ecuador and Mexico, which is surely set to be dubbed the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’.
If Bolivia are to beat their outsiders tag they must shed any lingering insecurities acquired from five successive exits in round one. This will not be easy as the landlocked nation were last winners way back in 1963, with their most recent success being crowned runners-up in 1997.
Both of those ventures came on home soil as hosts, which might stand El Verde in good stead as they make the short journey across the Sand Flats to cross over into neighbouring Chile.
Fittingly, Chile were also Bolivia’s first official international competitors back in 1926, when they smashed El Verde 7-1, but Soria will be hoping his side can now hold their own against the hosts in their Copa quest.
Soria, a former El Verde veteran in nets, can call upon robust captain Ronald Raldes to command his rearguard. The centre back stalwart has 81 caps, making him seventh in the charts for all-time appearances, and he can draw level in fifth should Bolivia qualify from Group A.
Watch Raldes square-up to Lionel Messi here:
Argentine-born attacking midfielder Damian Lizio, from River Plate ranks, also appears to have forced his way into Soria’s thoughts after grabbing a goal and an assist last time out against Venezuela.
The skilful schemer currently plies his trade at O’Higgins, and being Chile-based could certainly work in his favour as El Verde adjust to lower altitude terrain.
View Lizio’s goal against Venezuela:
A potential wild card competing for a spot shielding Bolivia’s backline may be be AC Milan academy starlet Sebastian Gamarra Ruiz, nicknamed somewhat optimistically the ‘Bolivian Pirlo’.
Take a peek at Gamarra Ruiz’s Primavera profile:
Noted for his ability to pick a pass and set piece threat, throwing the uncapped youngster into the firing line may be unwise, but could also prove a masterstroke if he features and thrives. Such are the fine lines in international football.
Up front, the Andean outfit will have a comparatively decadent attacking pool to draw upon, with versatile and veteran El Verde wingman Juan Carlos Arce expecting to be a fixture after netting the winner and also proving himself a game-changer against Venezuela.
Partially schooled in Europe after stints with Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk, German big-guns Werder Bremen and English outfit Wigan Athletic, 27-year-old striker Marcelo Martins Moreno is now flying the flag for Bolivia in the Chinese Super League with Changchun Yatai.
Easily the leading sharpshooter in the squad with a haul of 12 international strikes, marksman Moreno sits eighth on the all-time top scorer list and will be aiming to climb the charts in the Copa by firing his side out of Pool A.
While a top-two finish seems realistically out of reach, Bolivia could boldly go for a best third spot, as an alternative route to the knock-out rounds.
What to expect from Moreno in Chile: