Argentina suffer setback in Bolivia after Lionel Messi banned for four games

Guardian sport
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Argentina players show their disappointment during their defeat by Bolivia in a World Cup qualifier in La Paz.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Reuters</span>
Argentina players show their disappointment during their defeat by Bolivia in a World Cup qualifier in La Paz. Photograph: Reuters

Argentina, deprived of Lionel Messi after he received a four-match ban hours before kick-off, lost 2-0 in Bolivia to endanger their qualification chances for the World Cup in Russia.

Juan Carlos Arce put the home side ahead with a first-half header and Marcelo Martins added a second eight minutes after the break. Argentina have not missed a World Cup finals since 1970 but are fifth in the South American qualification table. The first four qualify directly.

Messi was banned for insulting an assistant referee in Argentina’s qualifier against Chile last week which they won 1-0, thanks to a Messi penalty. The Barcelona forward was also fined 10,000 Swiss francs after approaching the official at the end of the win in Buenos Aires.

Argentina will be without their captain for three of their final four qualifiers and if Tuesday’s performance is any guide he will be sorely missed.

Edgardo Bauza’s side slip down the standings after 14 games after Colombia beat Ecuador 2-0, with James Rodríguez and Juan Cuadrado goals, and Chile were sent on the way to a 3-1 victory over Venezuela, bottom of the table, with an early Alexis Sánchez goal. Brazil lead the table from Colombia and Uruguay.

Sánchez’s 25-yard free-kick meant he equalled Marcelo Salas’s national scoring record of 37 goals. He later missed a penalty.

Argentina were already without suspended regulars Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia and Gonzalo Higuaín in La Paz before Messi’s suspension and they defended poorly throughout the game.

Ángel Di María was unfortunate not to put away Argentina’s first real chance after 27 minutes but the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder fired his effort just wide before the same man collected Angel Correa’s terrific ball moments later but failed to get past the goalkeeper, Carlos Lampe.

Bolivia took the lead when 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 Martins, who tapped home from the edge of the six-yard box.

Bauza brought on Sergio Agüero to add firepower up front four minutes later. Argentina won a free-kick just outside the 18-yard box after 60 minutes but Ever Banega’s effort was cleared by the Bolivian defence, while at the other end Facundo Roncaglia denied Martins his second of the night with a vital block.

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