Bolivia Copa America 2024 squad guide: Without their record scorer, expectations are low

Can a new manager transform Bolivia’s underwhelming recent Copa America record? Since Marcelo Martins Moreno’s retirement, the challenge has only become more difficult.


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The manager

A Copa America winner as a player with Brazil in 1999, Antonio Carlos Zago is now 15 years into a coaching career that is probably best described as nomadic. There have been stints with 11 clubs in his homeland, assistant manager gigs at Roma and Shakhtar Donetsk, and a couple of years in Japan with Kashima Antlers. Now he is the latest man charged with turning Bolivia from South America’s whipping boys into… well, not that.

Zago, 55, came to the Bolivian FA’s attention when he led La Paz club Bolivar to the local championship in 2022. As you might expect from a former centre-back who was known as ‘Terminator’, his brand of football is robust rather than romantic: he sets his side out in a 4-4-1-1, with playmaker Ramiro Vaca the only real creative outlet.


Antonio Carlos Zago has been in charge since October 31 (Richard Pelham – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Results so far have been mixed. Appointed in October, Zago’s stewardship started well with a 2-0 home win over Peru in World Cup qualifying — much needed after four straight defeats — but that was followed by a 3-0 loss against Uruguay. Friendlies against Algeria (2-3), Andorra (1-0) and Mexico (0-1) have left an impression of a team searching for consistency.

Still, Zago is a broadly popular figure for the time being, viewed as someone who can raise the level of Bolivian football. His polite, respectful relationship with the media has not harmed his cause and while no master wordsmith, he has spoken engagingly about the challenges that lie ahead.

“The most important thing is for us to compete,” he said earlier this year. “We have to try to play on an equal footing with the big teams in terms of intensity and physicality. Bolivian football has never done that, not least because the league here is at a lower level than those in other countries. But we’ve been passing that message on to the players and it’s been working.”

The household name you haven’t heard of yet

One of a number of young Bolivians to have progressed through the ranks at Brazilian club Santos, Miguel Terceros looks like being a classic tournament wildcard. He lacks top-level experience — he made his senior Santos debut at 18 but still mainly plays for their under-20s — but has the kind of natural ability that could easily dig his team out of a hole in a tricky moment.


Terceros could be a gamechanger for Bolivia (Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images)

Terceros is an attacker who is most comfortable as a No 10 or winger but can also operate as a false nine and even as an emergency wing-back. He is a clean striker of the ball, a wriggly dribbler and isn’t afraid to take responsibility: witness his full Bolivia debut, against Senegal, during which he ran at the opposition relentlessly.

Strengths

It’s not hugely advantageous to have great strength in depth in your goalkeeping department, but Bolivia do have two very good options. The starter is likely to be 31-year-old Guillermo Viscarra, a springy shot-stopper whose knack for making saves with his legs is reminiscent of David de Gea. Then there is Carlos Lampe, a pillar of the side for many years, who is still going strong at 37.

The midfield is also competent and balanced. Leonel Justiniano, a no-nonsense tackler, does most of the dirty work, allowing Fernando Saucedo to construct moves from deep. Ahead of them, Vaca, who is now back in the Bolivian top flight after a spell in Belgium, is the man charged with plotting a route to goal.

Weaknesses

For one thing, Bolivia have struggled to find the right combination in defence. There are solid, well-travelled players there — captain Luis Haquin plays in Brazil and left-back Roberto Fernandez just spent a season in Russia — but the consensus view in Bolivia is that they don’t gel together.


Bolivia captain Luis Haquin (right) in an October World Cup qualifier against Paraguay (Christian Alvarenga/Getty Images)

Fans and journalists have been critical of individuals, too, with experienced centre-back Adrian Jusino frequently in the crosshairs. “It’s always my fault, that’s clear to me,” he deadpanned after the March defeat by Algeria. “As long as Jusino is playing, something bad will always happen.”

The bigger issue is arguably up front, however. Marcelo Martins Moreno, Bolivia’s all-time top goalscorer, retired in December and leaves a hole that will be almost impossible to fill. The two most likely starters — Carmelo Algaranaz, a classic No 9, and the nippier Bruno Miranda — only have four international goals between them. With no great firepower across the midfield, Bolivia aren’t going to be sending shivers down the spines of opposition defenders this summer.

Thing you didn’t know

The under-fire Jusino will be looking forward to the Copa America more than most. He was born in the United States — in Springfield, Massachusetts — and his father is an American citizen. He has also had two spells playing in the country of his birth, first with Ventura County Fusion in 2016 and, two years later, with Tulsa Roughnecks.

Expectations back home

Bolivia won the Copa America on home soil in 1963 and came second as hosts in 1997. Beyond their own borders, however, their record has been pretty ordinary, especially in recent editions. La Verde have managed just one victory in the last nine tournaments and have lost their previous 12 Copa America matches. That naturally tempers expectations.

Zago has made it clear that the priority for Bolivia is qualifying for the next World Cup — a recurring theme among a lot of the South American teams. Given that he is still only a handful of matches into his reign, the Copa America is understandably being cast as a staging post rather than a date with destiny. Against that backdrop, a place in the knockout stages would be a major achievement.

Bolivia’s Copa America squad

Goalkeepers: Carlos Lampe (Bolivar), Guillermo Viscarra (The Strongest), Gustavo Almada (Universitario de Vinto).

Defenders: Jose Sagredo (Bolivar), Adrian Jusino (The Strongest), Roberto Fernandez (Baltika Kaliningrad), Luis Haquin (Ponte Preta), Jairo Quinteros (Bolivar), Diego Medina (Always Ready), Jesus Sagredo (Bolivar), Marcelo Suarez (Always Ready), Yomar Rocha (Bolivar), Sebastian Alvarez (Oriente Petrolero), Cesar Romero (Blooming).

Midfielders: Leonel Justiniano (Bolivar), Ramiro Vaca (Bolivar), Fernando Saucedo (Bolivar), Boris Cespedes (Yverdon-Sport), Gabriel Villamil (LDU Quito), Miguel Terceros (Santos), Hector Cuellar (Always Ready), Robson Tome (Always Ready), Pablo Vaca (Always Ready), Adalid Terrazas (Always Ready).

Forwards: Rodrigo Ramallo (The Strongest), Carmelo Algaranaz (Bolivar), Bruno Miranda (The Strongest), Jaume Cuellar (Barcelona B), Cesar Menacho (Blooming), Lucas Chavez (Bolivar).

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