Unofficial football world champions Bolivia faced a tough test in early June, as they had to dispatch challengers Nicaragua twice in back-to-back friendly matches. In the two closely fought contests, La Verde managed to snatch a 1-0 win away at Estadio Nacional, Managua, and then prevail in the 3-2 home victory at Estadio Provincial, Yacuiba. The results mean that Bolivia have now won eight title matches, pushing them up to 23rd in the all-time rankings and one win behind fellow South Americans Colombia. Mauricio Soria and his side are now looking towards September, when they will once again defend their crown against Peru.
Although Bolivia were unofficially defending their title against Nicaragua last month, in the eyes of the rest of the footballing world, those matches were only friendlies and the pressure was off. In the next four fixtures, however, Bolivia will be battling against some of the contenders to win the official World Cup in 2018, as the matches against Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Uruguay are all World Cup qualifiers. This could have a serious impact on whether they will manage to keep hold of their crown as unofficial world champions. Peru will certainly prove a stern test and, as of July 11, sportsbook Betway are offering odds of 4/9 for La Blanquirroja to win the tie. But after managing to snatch the unofficial world championship title from Argentina, Bolivia will be hoping to cling onto it against Peru, who are a slightly better match than the likes of Chile and Brazil. Ricardo Gareca’s men are coming into the fixture on the back of an emphatic 3-1 against Jamaica at Estadio Nacional, Lima, however, and should not be taken lightly. This could turn out to be Bolivia’s toughest title defence to date.
Soria will most certainly be relying on key striker Gilbert Alvarez to deliver the goods for Bolivia once again. In the previous two matches against Nicaragua, he scored the winning goal in the 58th minute of the first, and the equalising goal in the second just after half-time. In six appearances for his country, these were the 25-year-old’s first ever goals, having made his debut in 2009. Soria may have tapped into the former Real Potosi striker’s burgeoning potential just in time for some crucial unofficial world title games. Although La Verde can no longer qualify for the official World Cup, Peru will be well aware that they are five points shy of an automatic qualification place and four points from a spot in the inter-confederation playoff. Gareca’s side have only ever made it to the World Cup finals on four occasions, and will be desperate to qualify this time around. Peru will be relying on their star forward Paolo Guerrero, who has played all 14 qualifying matches and notched four goals.
If Bolivia manage to beat Peru they will then have to defend the title against even tougher opposition when they host Chile four days later. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side according to fifa.com are currently fourth in the qualifying table on 23 points. They are trailing third-placed Uruguay merely on goal difference, with Oscar Tabarez’s team having scored two more goals and conceded two fewer after 14 games. Both clubs are just a single point behind Colombia in second, and the race to gain an advantage going into the group stages of the World Cup in Russia is heating up. If Bolivia are still unofficial champions going into the tie, it is expected that Chile will be named the new unofficial champions going forward. With the likes of Alexis Sanchez, who scored 24 goals and made ten assists in the Premier League last season, and Arturo Vidal, who, per WhoScored, had a pass completion rate of 87.8% in the Bundesliga, in their ranks, Chile should have too much for Soria’s side when the two teams meet on September 5.
Judging by the tough road ahead for Bolivia, we could well see the unofficial world title change hands in the coming months. If it goes to one of the major clubs like Chile or Brazil, then there is a strong chance that by the end of the World Cup, the unofficial world champions could also be the official world champion.