How to play football on mountain peeks

Generally speaking, few human like to live at high altitudes and in many countries they are ‘saved’ from this fear, for the simple reason that really high altitudes don’t exist. But what you do you do when the capital city is 3.600 meters above sea level? And most important, what would you say if, as a football team, you have to come and play at this altitude? Well, let’s ask this last question mainly to the opposite teams that visit Bolivia national team on their soil. The stadium of the Bolivians is located in La Paz at exactly 3.637 meters! The air is rarer there than it can be at a more decent altitude, so FIFA decide in 2007, that football games shouldn’t be play at more than 2.500 meters above sea level. This project of the football organization brought many protests from the countries located in the Andes Mountains and suddenly, they raised the altitude to 3.000 meters. That was OK for Peru, Colombia or Ecuador, but not for Bolivia, country which has the national stadium, ‘Hernando Siles’ at 3.637 meters. Finally, FIFA accepted the situation and gave, once and for all, the decisive advantage for Bolivia on home soil.

Without being a brave team, Bolivia obtained a couple of performances in their history, especially because their opponents weren’t accustomed with playing at such high altitude. The most successful result for the Bolivians came in the last two decades. First, a 2-0 victory over Brazil in 1993, the first defeat of ‘Selecao’ since they were playing in World Cup qualifiers! Four years later, Bolivia reached the second final of the Copa America, from their entire history, after five consecutive wins in the group stage (1-0 Venezuela, 2-0 Peru, 1-0 Uruguay), in the quarters (2-1 against Colombia) and in the semis (3-1 with Mexico). All the matches were, of course, played on Estadio Hernando Siles. Even the final was held there, but this time, the Bolivians couldn’t keep the step with Brazil, which obtain a 3-1 victory. But after, Brazil never managed to win in a World Cup qualifying match on this stadium. In 2001, Bolivia won 3-1, in 2005 they held a 1-1 and after another four years the match ended in a 2-1 victory for the hosts. On the same pitch, Argentina also had serious problems during its history and all culminated with the defeat from 2009, when Bolivia won 6-1, which was officially accepted as the toughest loss for the ‘Pumas’ from the last six decades! Although, with Maradona as a coach, Argentina made it to the World Cup from 2010.

But what is the story of this famous stadium? Built in 1931, the sport complex is the biggest from Bolivia and can host a total of 42.000 supporters. The home games are played here by three Bolivian teams: The Strongest, Club Bolivar and La Paz FC, besides the Bolivian national team. First of them was also the squad which played the first match on this field, against Universitario, which The Strongest won 4-1. One last notable thing about the venue is that its name comes from the 31st president of Bolivia, Hernando Siles Reyes, which was in charge between 1926 and 1930, meaning a year before the stadium was inaugurated.

Even though they reached the final of Copa America in 1997, that wasn’t the best performance for Bolivia in this competition as they won the tournament in 1963 when they were, of course, also hosts. But at that time, the tournament had a different system and the organizers didn’t play all the games on Estadio Hernando Siles. Just three out of six: a 4-4 with Mexico, a 3-2 with Peru and the same result against Argentina. The other half, including the last one, a memorable 5-4 against Brazil, which sealed them first place, took place Felix Capriles Stadium, from Cochabamba. The home venue of Jorge Wilsterman and Club Aurora is smaller (can hold maximum 32.000 spectators) and located at a lower altitude (approximately 2.825 meters) but it will remain in the history for being the stadium on which Bolivia won its first and last international title, in 1963.

Otherwise, Bolivia is the one of the weakest teams in the World in away matches, having one just a couple of official games in their entire history on away soil, mainly against Peru and Venezuela. That is the clear proof that the high altitude where they are appearing in front of their fans is such a big advantage that can transform them from a hilarious team into a powerful force even in a couple of days.

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