LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) – Argentina expected to fight at the heights of La Paz. The World Cup champion’s climb seemed even steeper without Lionel Messi in the squad.
Argentina still beat Bolivia 3-0 on Tuesday in the second match of their 2026 World Cup qualifiers.
Coach Lionel Scaloni’s qualifying team, led by veteran Ángel Di María and a strong midfielder, is currently two-on-two.
Brazil joined Argentina six points clear in the South American table after a last-minute 1-0 victory over Peru.
Uruguay had a chance to join the leaders, but lost to Ecuador 2-1.
The Ecuadorians are now back to zero; they started the tournament with a score of -3 after a three-point deduction by FIFA for falsifying the birth data of defender Byron Castillo, who is of Colombian origin.
The next World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada will expand to a 48-team format, meaning direct entry into the top six teams in South America. The seventh-place team will fight for a place in the intercontinental play-offs.
Colombia is third with four points after Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with Chile. Uruguay and Venezuela have three points each, followed by Paraguay, Peru and Chile with one point each.
The next South American World Cup qualifying matches will be played in October.
BOLIVIA 0, ARGENTINA 3
Argentina defined the match in the first half with two goals, maintained the momentum in the second half and added a third just before the final whistle. A red card for Bolivia’s Roberto Fernández in the 39th minute also made things less troublesome for the Argentines.
Enzo Fernández opened the scoring in the 31st minute from close range after Di María’s low cross from the right. The experienced striker also took part in the second goal – he lifted the ball into the penalty area from a free kick in the 42nd minute, and Nicolas Tagliafico hit it with his shoulder.
Nico González added Argentina’s third goal in the 83rd minute with a cross from the edge of the penalty area that went past goalkeeper Billy Viscarra to the right.
Messi applauded the goals from the bench in the stadium where he watched Argentina be thrashed 6-1 by the hosts 14 years ago.
“The altitude is psychological,” Di María told reporters after his team’s victory.
Messi, 36 years old Inter Miami starHe was not included in the starting line-up of the World Champions nor on the bench. Last week he scored a goal from a free kick give Argentina a 1-0 home win over Ecuador in their first international match since winning the World Cup last December.
“He wasn’t in the mood to play… he didn’t feel comfortable,” Scaloni said. “We weren’t taking any risks.”
Messi’s absence disappointed many Bolivians, including hundreds of local fans who came to welcome him to the country on Sunday evening.
PERU 0, BRAZIL 1
Brazil arrived in Peru full of praise after Friday’s 5-1 defeat to Bolivia. However, after the final whistle in Lima, despite the team’s victory, little of this enthusiasm remained.
In the first half, the Selecao team had two goals disallowed by VAR __, including Richarlison’s header, which took 7 minutes for the referees to decide. They started the second half with attacks, but Peru defended fiercely and showed that the new Brazilian system under interim coach Fernando Diniz is far from complete.
Brazil made plenty of passing errors, including several from Neymar, which angered Diniz throughout the second half. Relief came only after Neymar took a corner kick and scored a header from Marquinhos in the 90th minute.
“This will be the face of the national team. We will be very aggressive,” Marquinhos told reporters after the match. Nobody thought at the time that we could score with a dead ball, but that’s part of our game.
Reserve striker Gabriel Jesus said it was unfair to criticize Brazil at this stage, given that beating Peru in Lima is a good result for any team.
“We are still evolving as a team and these points will be very important in the future,” he said.
ECUADOR 2, URUGUAY 1
A goal in each half by defender Felix Torres erased Ecuador’s points deficit in the league table.
Uruguay opened the scoring in the 38th minute with a pass from Agustín Canobbio from close range in one of the few moments in which Ecuador did not dominate in the first half.
Torres equalized with a header in stoppage time of the first half.
In the second half, Ecuador continued to improve their physical play against a young Uruguay team. A quick play by 16-year-old Kendry Páez on the left wing resulted in a low cross, and Torres scored again in the 61st minute.
The second goal brought relief to the packed Casa Blanca Stadium in Quito. Eleven minutes earlier, striker Enner Valencia missed a penalty.
“The important thing is that we did not become desperate,” Valencia said. “This is our first victory and we will continue to strengthen here.”
Also on Tuesday, Venezuela beat Paraguay 1-0 thanks to a penalty goal by Salomón Rondón moments before the final whistle. It was the 33-year-old striker’s 40th goal for his national team.
AP Sports Writer Mauricio Savarese contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.
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