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Who are Argentina's bogey side?

South America is known for high quality players and the success of its national sides.

Lionel Messi is currently the world's best player and Brazil and Argentina have two of the best records in World Cup history.

There are other South American nations that have had their moments on the international stage - Uruguay, Chile and Colombia included.

But what of the lesser known nations on one of football's greatest continents – those nations that have not necessarily enjoyed any great success, but still have a passion for the game?

Bolivia and its 10 million population are fanatical about football – and it has been an encouraging 2011 for a largely forgotten footballing nation.

Altitude advantage

Just ask a frustrated Argentina, who suffered one of their worst ever defeats against their fellow South Americans in 1997 and have failed to beat them in the Copa America and World Cup qualifiers this year.

Only Peru finished lower than their South American neighbours in the last World Cup qualifying campaign, but high altitude has been an advantage for Bolivia in home games and they caused a shock with a 6-1 home win against Argentina and also beat Brazil 2-1, Paraguay 4-2 and Peru 3-0 on home soil in quailifying games ahead of the 2010 tournament.

At 11,932 feet above sea level, Bolivia’s Estadio Hernando Siles venue in La Paz has been at the centre of controversy – with visiting nations complaining that the altitude gave the home nation an advantage.

A ban was placed on Bolivia hosting World Cup qualifiers there in May 2007 but, after Diego Maradona backed Bolivia’s appeal against the ruling, FIFA lifted the ban a month later.

The Bolivians have not qualified for the World Cup since 1994 and have never won a World Cup finals game, with just one draw and one goal in six games in their three appearances in the tournament.

Notable results

They won the Copa America in 1963 and were runners up in 1997, but have not progressed beyond the first round since then.

Although qualification for the 2014 World Cup looks unlikely, Bolivia have enjoyed some notable results this year.

They drew 0-0 in an away friendly against Paraguay in June and followed that result with a 1-1 draw in Argentina in a Copa America group clash.

Bolivia have since recorded the same scoreline in Buenos Airies in a World Cup qualifier last month, but sit bottom of the group after four games.

Currently 108 in the FIFA world rankings (they were as high as 18th in 1997), Bolivia’s biggest names in recent years have included Jaime Moreno, formerly of Middlesbrough and MLS side DC United.

Vast improvement

Marco Etcheverry was their best player during the 1990s but, in their opening World Cup finals game against Germany in the USA in 1994, he was sent off just three minutes after coming on as a substitute.

Bolivia lost the game 1-0 – a vast improvement on their 8-0 defeat against Uruguay in their previous World Cup finals game in 1950 – before securing a 0-0 draw against South Korea, followed by a 3-1 defeat against Spain in their final group game.

Marcelo Martins (pictured) – also known as Marcelo Moreno – is their current star, with 10 goals in 31 appearances for his country.

He scored Bolivia’s goal in the 1-1 World Cup qualifier against Argentina on November 11 this year and managed 11 goals in 46 appearances for Shakhtar Donetsk, but failed to find the net during loan spells at Werder Bremen in 2009 and Wigan in 2010.

The 24-year-old, who is being tipped to become his country’s leading goalscorer of all time, currently plays for Gremio in Brazil.

Tall order

Next target for Martins and his Bolivian team-mates is a fifth place finish in the 2014 World Cup CONMEBOL qualifying group but that looks like being a tall order.

Brazil have already qualified as tournament hosts and currently only a point separates Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador and current fifth placed nation Chile in the race for the four automatic qualification spots.

Uruguay top the group with seven points from their opening three games while Colombia, in sixth spot, are on four points, just one win adrift of second-placed Argentina with a game in hand. As if that wasn’t a tough enough challenge for Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru are also ahead of them in the race for qualification for the 2014 finals.

Bolivia will be hoping to pick up some points in their two qualifying games in June next year – both in La Paz – when they host Chile then Paraguay in quick succession.

But it already seems a distinct possibility that when Peru host Bolivia in the final round of CONMEBOL qualification games on October 15, 2013, the fate of the two nations as the bottom two in the group could have already been sealed.

By Mark Roach

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