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Qualifying Stage
  • Juan Arce (31')
  • Marcelo Moreno (52')

Argentina stutter to defeat in Bolivia without Lionel Messi

Bolivia took advantage of Lionel Messi's absence to claim a comfortable 2-0 victory, harming Argentina's hopes of World Cup qualification in La Paz on Tuesday.

Argentina, who went into the match on the back of a two-match winning run in the South America group, started without the suspended Messi after the Barcelona playmaker was banned for four international matches for abusing an assistant referee during last Thursday's tie with Chile.

The 29-year-old Barcelona forward will also miss Argentina's next three World Cup qualifiers -- away to Uruguay in August, at home to Venezuela the following month and at home to Peru in October -- meaning he will only be able to return for their final qualifying match away to Ecuador, although they will appeal against the ruling.

Without Messi, the Albiceleste took a while to get going and they almost fell behind as early as the fifth minute, but Pablo Escobar's touch let him down when alone at the far post after a mistake from Ramiro Funes Mori, while Raul Castro tested visiting goalkeeper Sergio Romero with a long-range strike midway through the first half.

Angel Di Maria was unfortunate not to put away Argentina's first real chance after 27 minutes but the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder fired his well-struck effort just wide before the same man collected Angel Correa's terrific ball moments later but failed to get past home stopper Carlos Lampe.

Just after the half-hour mark, Bolivia took the lead when Juan Carlos Arce scored a stunning header from Escobar's long-range cross as he beat defender Facundo Roncaglia in the centre of the penalty box with his back to the goal.

The home side doubled their lead seven minutes after the break as Jorge Flores cut the ball back and picked out Marcelo Martins, who was waiting in the area and made no mistake as he tapped home from the edge of the six-yard box to double his side's lead.

Visiting coach Edgardo Bauza brought on Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero to add some firepower up front four minutes later as they looked to get something from the game.

The away side won a free kick just outside the 18-yard box after 60 minutes but Ever Banega's effort was well cleared by the Bolivian defence, while at the other end Roncaglia denied Martins his second of the night with a vital block.

Di Maria set up Lucas Pratto with two great crosses as the half wore on and the Sao Paulo striker slid in to meet the the ball but came up inches short for the first one before heading well wide with a disappointing miss with the second as Argentina fought to reduce the deficit, but the home side held on for maximum points.

The result leaves the visitors third but under pressure from Colombia, Ecuador and Chile, with only the top four countries qualifying and the fifth advancing to a playoff, while Bolivia sit 12 points further back in ninth with four matches remaining.