Argentina suffered a setback in their World Cup qualification hopes after losing 2-0 against Bolivia in the absence of captain Lionel Messi.
Messi was banned hours before the match at the Estadio Hernando Siles in Bolivia. Argentina, already without suspended regulars Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia and Gonzalo Higuain in La Paz before Messi’s suspension and they defended poorly throughout the gama.
Bolivia took the lead when Juan Carlos Arce scored a stunning header from Pablo Escobar’s long-range cross. The home side doubled their lead seven minutes after the break as Jorge Flores cut the ball back and picked out Marcelo Martins, who tapped home from the edge of the six-yard box.
Argentina, who have not missed a World Cup finals since 1970, are dropped down to fifth in the CONMEBOL qualification table after their defeat as Chile and Colombia leapfrogged them with wins in their respective qualifiers. The first four qualify directly while the fifth advances into the considerably risky inter-confederation playoffs.
Argentina had won their last qualifying match against Chile last week by 1-0, thanks to Messi’s own penalty in the first half.
However, Messi was slapped with a four-match suspension and fined 10,000 Swiss francs after approaching the official at the end of the win in Buenos Aires.
It also meant that Argentina will be without their captain for three of their final four qualifiers; and if the Argentine performance against Bolivia was any hint to what the international team could do without him, he will be sorely missed.