JULIAN Betts (@BettsJulian) returns with a third episode of his Round The World In 80 Leagues series. This time, we’re off to Bolivia.
Nacional Potosi v Universitario de Sucre | Friday 00:15
Laying claim to the title “Greatest League in the World” is a spurious one at best. Ultimately it depends by what criteria one is judging. Skill, excitement, competitiveness? The age old argument rages to and fro on an almost weekly basis. Yet for pure fascination I believe it would be remiss to discard Bolivia from the list of contenders.
For starters some of the team names automatically elevate this league into the higher echelons of world football just on their own. Jorge Wilstermann from Cochabamba where the football club and airport were renamed after the death of a famous Bolivian aviator.
Club Blooming inspired by the flourishing youth of Santa Cruz, one of the world’s fastest growing cities. The most successful of all domestic clubs bears perhaps the greatest burden of being named after the great liberator of Hispanic America, Simon Bolivar, a major figure in securing the independence of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Panama from Spanish rule.
And my personal favourite The Strongest, a brilliantly simplistic use of sporting psychological warfare. Incidentally The Tigers, as they are known, are also the only football team in the world to have a battle named after it.
Players and staff enlisted to defend the country against Paraguayan attack during the Chaco War (1932-35) and these “Stronguistas” played a vital part in securing victory is what is now remembered as the “Batalla de Canada Strongest”.
Alongside this the Bolivian Apertura also holds the record for the world’s oldest professional footballer at the grand old age of 54. Incredibly the aforementioned individual is none other than the incumbent Bolivian President himself, Evo Morales, who signed a contract with Sport Boys Warnes to play 20 minutes of each game (subject to pressing Presidential duties of course!).
Morales is a self certified football fanatic and has previously been caught on camera kneeing an opponent in the groin during a match against the Mayor of La Paz’s team. One of the President’s bodyguards was sent off in that very same game and the Mayor was forced to intervene as police attempted to arrest an opposition player following a particularly vicious foul on the head of state!
I could spend all day regaling you with similar tales from the wonderful world of South American football but will highlight just one more unique aspect of football in Bolivia – altitude.
Basically the higher you play the less oxygen in the air and those teams unused to these extreme conditions will struggle physically resulting in adverse performances.
In 2007 FIFA introduced a temporary ban on international matches above 2500m citing concerns about players health. The ruling meant that as well as Bolivia, Ecuador and Columbia would be prevented from hosting World Cup qualifiers in their own capital cities.
Interestingly the complaint that led to this decision was made by Brazilian club side Flamengo following a Copa Libertadores match at the home of Friday’s hosts Nacional Potosi who play their home matches in the Estadio Victor Agustin Ugarte, the highest football stadium in the world lying an intimidating 3950m above sea level.
Hot home form
Unsurprisingly then Nacional have a very decent home record this season of W5 D3 L1 with the single defeat coming to Bolivar who are themselves, not only top of the table but also a team based in La Paz and so well versed in coping with these specific demands.
Sucre, meanwhile, like most Bolivian teams have a poor away record W1 D4 L4 and coupled with the fact that, although in relative terms, the city sits at a fair height (2800m) it in no way compares to what was for centuries the home of the Spanish Colonial Mint. Indeed the city gave rise to the Spanish expression “vale un Potosi” (to be worth a Potosi).
Nacional are 5/6 for the straight win which seems generous given the home dominance in Bolivia and the fact that the last meeting between the two sides ended in a painful 6-1 defeat for “The Doctors” of Sucre. But some further stats reveal better value options.
Of the nine home games played by Nacional, eight have seen both teams find the net, the only exception a goalless stalemate against the Strongest who boast the best defensive record in the entire league. Even then that match produced 30 goal attempts!
Additionally six of the last eight meetings between the two chief protagonists have seen BTTS backers paid out. The greater value then lies with the home victory + BTTS at 40/17.
For those of you who like to dabble in bigger odds you might like to consider the 15/2 on offer for the correct score of 2-1. Unusually this is the most frequent score line (16% of matches) in the Bolivian league and there’s no reason to think that this won’t give you a good run for your money. Here’s hoping Potosi’s pathways are lined with silver once more.
Nacional Potosi v Universitario de Sucre – Nacional Potosi to win and both teams to score (40/17 888 Sport)