Instability continues to stunt growth of Bolivian football

Bolivia pushed defending champions Germany all the way before going down by the only goal in the opening game of the 1994 World Cup. They drew with South Korea and had their moments against Spain before losing 3-1.

It was a fine generation, which seemed to promise much for the future. A whole group of important players were in their early 20s: Erwin "Platini" Sanchez and Julio Cesar Baldivieso to make the play, defenders Oscar Sanchez and Juan Manuel Pena, Marco "el diablo" Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno up front.

But making it to the 1994 World Cup stands out as a high point. Some may point to reaching the final of the 1997 Copa America, but Bolivia were at home, and only they and Brazil selected full-strength sides. Almost by default, the tournament ended with these sides meeting in the final, which Brazil won 3-1.

Bolivia were not too far off qualifying for the next World Cup in 1998. Since then, though, they have not even come close, despite the considerable advantage of playing their home games at the extreme altitude of La Paz. Until the surprise run of Bolivar to this year's semifinals, the country's club sides have been merely making up the numbers in the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League. Others have moved on, especially Ecuador and Venezuela. The case could be made for Bolivian football being the weakest on the continent.

In such trying circumstances, if the national team are to make a challenge to qualify for Russia 2018, it is vital that the organisational side of things is as good as possible. Instead, high farce appears to have taken over.

Bolivia are currently without a full-time coach. Last month former international goalkeeper Mauricio Soria was in charge on a caretaker basis. His reign got off to a thoroughly acceptable start. In his first official match, Bolivia traveled to Chile and came back with an encouraging 2-2 draw. It was expected that Soria would quickly be given the job on a permanent footing. Indeed, he called up the squad to take on Venezuela on Nov. 18.

But Soria is also currently employed as a club coach at Blooming, from the city of Santa Cruz. Recently he took his side up the Andes to face Real Potosi, a club he previously coached, with some success. At the end of the game, though, as he left the pitch, he was insulted by some of the local supporters. It is then alleged that Soria referred to the people of Potosi in derogatory terms.

This controversy has created a political climate in which Bolivia's football bosses believe it would not be appropriate to name Soria as the national team coach. Presumably he remains a strong candidate for the job, but officialdom would prefer to wait until the heat has died down. After November, the next FIFA dates are not until March, by which time the storm will have likely blown over.

Bolivia suggested to the Venezuelan FA that the match on the 18th should not go ahead -- an extraordinary step from a team that need as much practice as possible. Unsurprisingly, Venezuela refused; they, too, are desperate for warm-up games in preparation for next year's Copa America in Chile, and the 2018 World Cup qualifiers that get underway soon afterward.

Bolivia, then, have turned to another stand-in coach. Ex-Argentina international Nestor Clausen has agreed to take charge for the match against Venezuela, where he will direct the squad already chosen by Mauricio Soria.

It means that Bolivia will have had different coaches in all three of this season's FIFA dates: Clausen in November, Soria in October and Xabier Azkargorta in September. A veteran Spaniard with a trademark walrus moustache, Azkargorta was the man who took Bolivia to the 1994 World Cup. All of this instability at the top makes it unlikely that his achievement will be matched by Mauricio Soria, or anyone else who may get the job, in 2018.