Wednesday 14 June 2017, 23:00

The academy behind Bolivia’s best decade

  • ​USA 1994 was Bolivia’s first World Cup in 44 years

  • A staggering number of their squad were Tahuichi Academy graduates

  • The academy was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – six times!

Bolivia seemed to come out of nowhere in 1994 when they reached their first FIFA World Cup™ in 44 years. “But it didn’t happen overnight,” said former striker Jaime Moreno, a key member of the South American nation’s golden generation that also did a turn on the world stage at the FIFA Confederations Cup Mexico 1999. “That team, and what we did, was something like 15 years in the making.”

Moreno, Marco 'El Diablo' Etcheverry, Erwin Sanchez, Luis Cristaldo and a raft of other young talents took the football world by storm in the 1990s – and they were all products of the fabled Tahuichi Academy. Based in Bolivia’s hinterlands, the academy opened its doors in 1978 to teach football, resist poverty and give a fighting chance to the poorest of Bolivia’s sons.

“Those years, and Tahuichi in general, meant everything to me and everyone involved in Bolivian football,” said Moreno, who went on to be capped 75 times for Los Altiplanicos. “Everything we achieved was learned there.”

Moreno and the rest of the so-called golden generation played, lived and dreamed together from their early teenage years until they went on to become the backbone of a Bolivian side, unbeatable at home in La Paz, that reached the Copa America final in 1997 and became a fixture, if only briefly, in the international arena.

“When we were with Tahuichi we travelled all over Europe and the United States,” said Moreno who became a legend in the USA with Major League Soccer's DC United, where he played with countryman and fellow Tahuichi alumnus Etcheverry. “We learned to win together and be better and bigger than we ever thought we could be.”

Nobel Prizes It’s not every day that a football academy gets nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but Tahuichi did – no fewer than six times.

“We were hungrier than most,” Moreno said from his home in the mid-Atlantic region of the USA where he now runs a football academy of his own. “When you have to go through hard stuff in life it makes you stronger. If you don’t have that hunger and things get hard, you might just quit. Sometimes things can come too easy – they didn’t come easy for us players who came through Tahuichi.”

“The high point for Bolivian football was obviously the World Cup in 1994,” Moreno said, before drawing attention to the fact that the men from the High Andes only missed out by one point on reaching the 1990 finals too. “But it took us a long time to become a team that could really do it. We had about 14 players in that team that were playing together since we were 14 years old at Tahuichi,” he went on. “It’s the proof of what can happen when you keep a group of players playing together.”

If the 1994 finals was the high-water mark for Bolivia on the world stage, 1999 signalled the end of the golden generation’s charge. It was a brief flirtation with the world game, but it was beautiful according to Moreno.

“Every competition is important, and just to pull on the shirt of your country is without description. To be on the national team and in the Confederations Cup - a global competition - we were excited to be a part of it and especially to be in Mexico and to play at the Azteca. The entire country was watching back home and you knew you were a part of something special.”

“These are all special moments, and it’s too bad we couldn’t do better, but our preparations weren’t perfect,” said Moreno, who still aches for the day his birth nation can return to the world’s stage. “But I’ll never forget being a part of it.”