Football - Headaches for both Bolivia and Argentina in the thin air

Lionel Messi, still raw as an Argentina player when they were crushed 6-1 by Bolivia in 2009, is now the consummate leader as the teams clash again in the thin air of La Paz in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier.


Messi and Argentina are in great form and Bolivia fear they will not enjoy the freedom they had to romp through a leaky defence almost at will as their visitors struggled in the thin air nearly 4,000 metres above sea level.

The ever-present Messi, who has scored against all South America's teams except Bolivia, told reporters in Buenos Aires last week the 2009 defeat was one of his worst experiences.

"It was a hard blow for those of us who were there and we'd like to change the image we left. I've had only that one experience and it was terrible, you make a sprint and never recover," Messi said.

"But there are national teams that have won there and we're going to try."

Bolivia's Basque coach Xabier Askargorta has called on fans to pack the stadium in their green colours after his team were surrounded by an impressive yellow wall of Colombia supporters in a 5-0 defeat in Barranquilla on Friday.

President Evo Morales told Fox Sports in an interview aired on Sunday he plans to decorate Messi "for his human and sporting qualities" in a ceremony before kickoff.

Maybe he hopes to mollify the little genius enough to lessen his impact on the game.

Bolivia's captain Ronald Raldes, a central defender for Argentine first division side Colon, said he expected Alejandro Sabella's Argentina to be better prepared for the high altitude this time.

"Bolivia played a great game (in 2009), one that every player wants to have. Argentina didn't have a good day and we took advantage," Raldes told ESPN at the weekend.

"But Tuesday will surely be different, we're aware of that and are preparing with far greater concentration... We know Argentina are preparing well and will be taking precautions," added Raldes, who said he also had problems at high altitude.

"We know how to manage the fatigue at altitude... I have team mates who play (their club football) in La Paz and Oruro and they compensate for those of us who suffer."

A possible Sabella line-up based on watching Monday's practice includes Angel Di Maria's return from suspension and, with Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero unavailable, Rodrigo Palacio as sole striker to combine with Messi in attack.

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