2026 World Cup qualifier: Messi on the bench, but Argentina cruise to 3-0 win over Bolivia

Angel Di Maria took over as captain in Messi's absence and shone, providing two assists before halftime

By Reuters

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Argentina forward Lionel Messi sits on the bench during the 2026 Fifa World Cup South American qualifying match against Bolivia in La Paz. — AFP
Argentina forward Lionel Messi sits on the bench during the 2026 Fifa World Cup South American qualifying match against Bolivia in La Paz. — AFP

Published: Wed 13 Sep 2023, 2:47 PM

Last updated: Wed 13 Sep 2023, 2:48 PM

Argentina rested captain Lionel Messi but they still made light work of Bolivia as they won 3-0 to claim their second victory of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday.

Angel Di Maria took over as captain in Messi's absence and shone, providing two assists before halftime.


"It's two games in, we knew it was important to get six points for what's to come," the 35-year-old Di Maria told Argentine broadcaster TyC Sports.

"To be handed the captain's armband by the best player in the world is unbelievable, I'm very proud."


Argentina forward Nicolas Gonzalez (centre) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal. — AFP
Argentina forward Nicolas Gonzalez (centre) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal. — AFP

Chelsea's Enzo Fernandez made it 1-0 after half an hour when he met Di Maria's cross with a close-range finish to score his third international goal.

"I'm a bit choked, the altitude feels a lot, but I adapted well," Fernandez said after his first match in La Paz, the world's highest capital city at 3625 metres above sea level.

"The game is like that, it's hard to catch my breath but I felt very good."

Bolivia were dealt another blow five minutes later as they were reduced to 10 men after Roberto Fernandez was given a red card for an ugly tackle on Cristian Romero.

Nicolas Tagliafico doubled the lead and scored his first goal for World Cup holders Argentina with a header from a Di Maria free kick in the 42nd minute, before Nicolas Gonzalez's powerful strike sealed the win in the 83rd.

Meanwhile, Brazil made it two wins from two in 2026 World Cup qualifying on Tuesday after a late goal from Marquinhos earned them a 1-0 win over Peru in Lima.

Brazil, who crushed Bolivia 5-1 at home on Friday, moved level on six points with rivals Argentina at the top of the South American qualifying standings.

Interim coach Fernando Diniz's side dominated possession and attacking opportunities early in the game but Raphinha and Richarlison saw goals ruled out for offside in the first half.

"I'm pleased with what we've shown in both games. Today's game was a different atmosphere. The team had to score three goals to make one count," Diniz told reporters.

"It's always important to win. I think we won with a lot of credit. I really enjoyed it."

With the game heading towards a scoreless draw Paris St Germain defender Marquinhos headed home Neymar's corner at the near post to seal the win in the 90th minute.

"We practised set pieces both in Belem and here. Set pieces define the game, today it did," Diniz added.

"We scored through persistence. A well struck ball and anticipation on the first post."

The five-times world champions will host Venezuela before visiting Uruguay next month when qualifying continues.

In other qualifiers earlier on Tuesday, Venezuela beat 1-0 Paraguay, Uruguay lost 2-1 at Ecuador, while Chile and Colombia drew 0-0.

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