Bolivia aren’t on a good streak. Having won just two of the 26 matches they have played since 2018 and with their last official win having come in September 2017, they are clearly the worst team in the tournament.
2017 saw them having one of their best streaks ever, winning three games, drawing one and losing three that year and reaching the 49th position in the FIFA Ranking, their third-best position since 1997. Since then, they have been in a free fall and are currently ranked in the 81st position, just below Syria and Oman.
Since the appointment of the Colombian coach César Farías, Bolivia has only won 8.3% of the points in official matches and despite being historically one of the worst national teams in South America, voices are claiming the coach should leave and the Federation rethink its strategy to develop local football.
If we look at all the players Bolivia has used in their last matches, only 22.2% of the players who have been in the squad play outside the country. Considering Bolivia has the weakest national league in South America, this gives us a good insight into the level of the squad and the struggles the coach faces to select a competitive team.
Bolivia’s main strength is playing at home because their stadium is located over 3,500 meters above sea level, making it difficult for foreign players to adapt to the lack of oxygen and the strange movements of the ball because of the low air resistance. Bolivia’s best results in the Copa América (winners in 1963 and runner-ups in 1997) both happened when they hosted the tournament but when they couldn’t benefit from that, their best result was fourth (1927 and 1949) but they normally don’t get past the group stage.
In this edition of the Copa América, Bolivia will face Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay in Group A. The last time they played against the former three, they lost but against Paraguay they drew and won their last two games so there could be some hope there. Anyway, Bolivia expects to be a solid team and make it as difficult as possible for the rivals considering the difference in quality. As we’ll see in this tactical analysis, only a miracle could see them go through but they can still frustrate one of the contenders and give something to celebrate to their country.
Bolivia hasn’t found a clear starting lineup in recent games so most places in their Xi are very disputed and could change from game to game. 4-4-2 seems to be Farías’ favourite formation but he has used a 5-4-1 and other more defensive formations too.
In goal, Lampe is the usual first choice. At 34 and with 33 caps to his name, he has played for Bolivia regularly in the last years and even captained them. Enjoying playing time at local side Always Ready, this will be his third Copa América.
In defence, Valverde and Carrasco are the most likely centre-back pairing. With a good mix of experience and youth – Valverde is 30 and Carrasco, 23 – they are the most solid pair the Bolivians can use. Valverde plays for The Strongest, one of Bolivia’s leading teams, while Carrasco has already moved to a better league and plays for Independiente del Valle in Ecuador.
On the full-backs, Sagredo and Flores, both playing in Bolivia for The Strongest and Always Ready respectively, are a balanced pair that suits the team’s defensive style very well while also providing some ability to carry the ball forward.
The midfield line will probably be composed of at least three defensive players (Céspedes, Wayar and Justiniano) plus Saavedra, who has more ability on the ball and is a very dynamic winger who can also play as a right-back so he’ll work hard in the defensive phase too. From this line, only Céspedes plays outside Bolivia, having spent his whole career in Switzerland and being a regular starter for Servette.
Upfront, Farías will probably go for his most experienced players. Marcelo Moreno Martins (or Martins Moreno, depending on the country) is the key player and top goalscorer of Bolivia and at 33 he’s still playing at a good level for Cruzeiro in the Brazilian second division. Alongside him, the 36-year-old Juan Carlos Arce also has all the necessary experience with 70 caps and 12 goals to his name. He has been in Bolivia for over a decade now but he played in Russia, Brazil, South Korea and Qatar in the past and with over 100 goals in the local championship, he’s one of Bolivia’s best players in recent years.
Regarding age, Bolivia has most of its players in their peak years or reaching them but still keep three or four very experienced players to lead the team.
There are some interesting youngsters who are starting to break into the team like Vaca or Raúl Fernández and could be tempted to pursue a career abroad but most of the team is composed of local players who are regular starters for their teams.
Bolivia’s 23-man predicted squad is the following:
José María Carrasco
Juan Carlos Arce
Marcelo Moreno Martins (c)
Historically and currently the worst national team in South America, Bolivia are used to being dominated and adapt their attacking play to that situation, especially when they don’t play at home and don’t have the advantage of playing at an altitude of 3,637 metres above sea level.
In attack, Bolivia is a very direct team as they lack the technical ability to dominate possession and break low blocks. They usually play against much better and dominating teams so they start their attacks from very deep positions and most of their passes are forward, looking to get the ball away from their box and exploit spaces.
They don’t have the technical ability to have the ball for long periods and are the worst team in the Copa América for average possession. When they have the ball, they look to quickly put it in advanced positions as shown by their very high directness in possession and long and forward passes tendency. They will also try to put the ball into the box from anywhere, knowing they’ll have Marcelo Martins, their best player, there. All these crosses and direct passing leads to a quite high number of touches in the box but they struggle to translate them into shots
Bolivia will also shoot every time they have the chance as they don’t have the individual skill or the numbers upfront to have better options or try to get into better positions. They shoot from far away and they have the lowest xG per match among the teams in the tournament.
As mentioned, Bolivia’s attacks are mostly based on what Marcelo Martins can do upfront. He doesn’t get the ball too many times but when he does he can hold it to try to wait for reinforcements and will also try to shoot if he has the chance. He’s the main reason why Bolivia wins most of their offensive duels but being so isolated means he doesn’t really have the chance to create much and he’s like a one-man army.
Above we see one of the rare occasions when Bolivia are in a positional attack. They don’t have any creative player who can and wants to play between the lines so they’re basically divided into two lines: defenders and forwards. Their only chance is a direct ball forward to see if something happens or crossing as soon as they have the chance.
Bolivia can get their chances if they frustrate rivals and don’t concede too soon in games. As rivals start to get forward and take risks, their chances of benefiting from a mistake with a quick counterattack increase. Set-pieces will also be key for them as they are one of their few chances to get numbers into the box. However, they don’t really have the quality to create much in attack and aren’t expected to have any brilliant offensive performances.
When it comes to defending, Bolivia is usually forced to sit deep and defend for most of the game as shown by their high PPDA. They don’t have players who are quick enough to press high and the individual quality of their defenders is poor compared to the rivals they usually face in South America, so they take a passive approach and try to defend by accumulating players and keeping a solid structure.
Bolivia’s passiveness in defence is striking. They rank among the teams with the lowest defensive and aerial duels per match and they don’t even try to foul the rivals to interrupt their attacks. As mentioned, they don’t have especially physical players and being low-level defenders, they’re one of the worst teams in defensive duels. This leads to them being the team that recovers the ball the least times despite defending for most of the game.
Where Bolivia does well is in their defensive structure. They try to frustrate rivals and force them to make difficult passes, getting lots of interceptions per match. Logically, this is because of their high volume of defending in every game but it’s still a positive. They’re also good in the air and they feel quite comfortable (or at least not too threatened) when their rivals use long balls or crosses. However, the opponents know this and try to keep their passes low and beat Bolivian defenders on the ground, where they’re poor.
Bolivia looks to create a compact defensive shape and all of their eleven players are most of the time in their own half. By being short and narrow, they look to prevent rivals from playing between the lines and force them to play wide and cross, which is how they feel most comfortable even if they don’t excel at marking.
This very conservative and defensive approach translates into conceding few shots. However, they aren’t excellent at this and 38.4% of the teams concede fewer shots than then. When a team plays against Bolivia, they know they’ll have their chances at some point as mistakes will happen and the individual quality of the forwards is higher than that of the defenders. It’s more a matter of converting those chances than of creating them.
Bolivia is a poor team in transitions. When going from defence to attack, they only have Martins as an option and even if he does well to hold the ball and fight against rival defenders, he can’t create a lot by himself.
It’s normal for Bolivia to initiate counterattacks with all their players in their half. The example shown is a typical one. Martins on the left side of the picture is Bolivia’s most advanced players and only he and his teammate carrying the ball are the ones trying to create something. It’s almost impossible to create anything from there and the play ends when the ball carrier reaches the midfield line where the rivals have some players defending the transition.
Lacking the quality to break lines with passes or the pace to threaten with runs in behind, Bolivia is quite limited in its counterattacking options. Most of the time, the best they can get from attacking transitions is a foul in the opposition half that allows them to put the ball into the box. Individual efforts or defensive mistakes are the only options they have to get a shoot when transitioning from defence to attack.
Defensive transitions aren’t frequent in Bolivia’s game but when they happen they can be quite bad. Their lack of quality means they can lose the ball in dangerous situations and if that happens during one of the rare occasions when they send players forward, they’re left with few players to defend spaces that are too big for them.
They’re also slow to recover their position and track back and any line-breaking pass when they’re positioned high in the pitch means they’ll be in a dangerous situation at the back. The next example shows how badly they transition into defence. A simple progressive pass when Argentina recovers the ball means they get a 3v3 situation with spaces. The difference in quality is huge and the play ends in a goal.
Letting Bolivia play from the back and trying to attract them so they commit players forward is a good strategy to force these mistakes and a good way teams have to rest from pressing high while also getting some space to play.
William Álvarez and Ramiro Vaca are the two Bolivia forwards who have performed the best in the last year. Both of them play in the low-level Bolivian league, so their figures don’t mean they’re the best forwards around but they have still shown they could be at a higher level and help their national team in the upcoming tournament.
Álvarez is close to one expected goal contribution per 90 but is slightly underperforming that, while Vaca is overperforming his less than 0.6 expected goal contributions and is close to one goal or assist per 90. They’re used to playing in teams that dominate a lot more than Bolivia but their presence will still be important.
Aged just 21, Vaca has been in and out of the senior national team so he isn’t expected to be an automatic starter. Mostly an attacking midfielder, he doesn’t really fit into Bolivia’s tactics and would need a team with more attacking presence to really impact the game. However, he can be a good option coming from the bench when Bolivia wants to score and the experience in a tournament like the Copa América will surely be important for him in his international career.
Álvarez only has one cap for Bolivia and it was in a friendly match in March. Given his performances in the local league, he’s expected to get into the squad but aged 25, there are more experienced players with a proven record in the national team that will be before him in the pecking order.
Marcelo Moreno Martins, Bolivia’s most recognizable and best player, hasn’t had his best season in terms of scoring and assisting. He’s close to 0.4 expected goal contributions per 90 but has underperformed and isn’t scoring or assisting as much as expected. However, he’s still a presence near the goal with more than 3.5 touches in the box and 2 shots per 90. Considering he plays for Cruzeiro in Brazil and not in the local league, these figures look even better as the level there is much higher. He has also been in excellent form in his last matches for Bolivia, registering four goals and one assist in his last five appearances.
Wayar and Justiniano are the expected pair in Bolivia’s central midfield and even if they have rotated a lot, they look very good statistically for their playing style. Expected to defend deep and then transition quickly into attack, both of them fit perfectly into that role with their ability to play progressive passes and even passes into the final third. The low contribution in attack shows that they rarely get themselves into the final third and thus will maintain Bolivia’s defensive structure.
As for players playing in a more attacking role, mostly from the wings, Erwin Saavedra is the most interesting one. He can play as a right-winger or a right-back, which suits Bolivia’s hard-working and defensive style very well, but he’s still the midfielder with the most expected goal contributions in the squad with more than 0.5 per 90. At 25, he already has 24 caps to his name and will add more in the tournament.
Another interesting player from the offensive point of view is Henry Vaca. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder has had a very good year and despite not counting in recent games, he could get a chance from the bench when Bolivia needs more attacking players.
Céspedes is expected to start on the left side of the midfield line. He’s more of a central midfielder but has been used in that position with the national team and playing at a high level in the Swiss Super League with Servette, he certainly has the level to contribute to the national team. He has a more balanced profile than the other players and can contribute both to progress the ball and close to the goal. He made his national team debut with Bolivia in October 2020 after choosing them over Switzerland, which he has represented at youth level, and he already has three caps and a goal.
Bolivia has changed its defensive line several times in their last matches and they don’t have many outstanding options to be automatic starters.
As a left-back, Jorge Flores seems the best choice. He’s an excellent runner with the ball, completing more than 4 progressive runs per 90 and also capable of progressing with passes. He can be a good option when Bolivia needs to transition into attack, especially considering they’re expected to play Céspedes on the left side of their midfield and he’s not a winger. In defence, Flores looks ok and will surely be good enough to defend in a low block.
On the right side, the situation is different. With Saavedra being very capable of progressing and attacking from midfield, the right-back is expected to be more balanced and defensive. Jesús Sagredo is expected to start and he’s one of the best defenders Bolivia has if we look at successful defensive actions and interceptions. He’s also capable of passing the ball forward but doesn’t join the attack as often as others with runs, keeping a good balance for the defensive structure.
The centre-back partnership of Valverde and Carrasco is also a balanced one. Valverde is very good at progressing from the back, which could help Bolivia to counterattack quickly, while Carrasco possesses excellent defensive ability. Aged 30 and 2ith 14 caps to his name, Valverde is a household name in Bolivia. Carrasco, aged only 23, is playing at a high level for Independiente del Valle in Ecuador and despite having only four caps to his name, he’s one of the best Bolivian centre-backs at the moment.
Marcelo Moreno Martins has been Bolivia’s best player for lots of years now. The striker, who also has a Brazilian passport and represented Brazil at U20 level, left Bolivia when he was 17 and has played mostly in Brazil but also in China, England, Germany and Ukraine, scoring more than 100 goals in his club career. Moreno Martins has been capped 80 times and is the top goalscorer of Bolivia’s history with 23 goals. He has scored in their last three official matches and comes into the tournament as their best player despite being 33.
Moreno Martins is a striker who stands at 187 cm. Physically strong, he’s used as a target man and uses his body to protect the ball and hold it to put his teammates into play. This ability to play with his back to the goal is very important in Bolivia’s tactics.
An intelligent player in the final third, Moreno Martins gets into very good positions in the box and is a great goal poacher. Bolivia do not service him too much but he still manages to score goals for them and he’s the main player rivals must mark also in set pieces.
On the ball, Martins has a good first touch to bring down long passes and makes good passes when he plays with his back to the goal to teammates who come from the second line. His shots are very powerful with both feet and he just needs a fraction of a second to finish. He’s also an excellent finisher with his head. His great finishing in general means he will take shots as soon as he can with Bolivia.
Finally, Marcelo Moreno Martins is a leader on the pitch and tries to guide his team at all times with his experience and personality. He works as hard as he can and sacrifices himself for the team even when that means he’s far from the goal and can’t contribute upfront.
PREDICTIONS FOR THE TOURNAMENT
Bolivia is expected to lose every game in the tournament if we look at what’s been described in this scout report. Paraguay seems like their best chance of getting a positive result but they’re still the worst team in their group. They play Argentina in the last matchday of the group stage and if the team led by Messi needs a win to qualify, then Bolivia could play with their nerves to get a good result. Anyway, for Bolivia, it’s more a matter of getting positive performances and seeming a solid squad than getting results as it seems very unlikely that they advance in the tournament.