LA PAZ, Bolivia: Argentina expected a struggle in the altitude of La Paz. The World Cup champions’ climb appeared even steeper with Lionel Messi out of the lineup.
Argentina still beat Bolivia 3-0 on Tuesday in their second match of the qualifying campaign for the 2026 World Cup.
It’s now two for two in qualifiers for coach Lionel Scaloni’s team, who were led by veteran Ángel Di María and a strong midfield.
Uruguay had the chance to join Argentina atop the standings table, but lost 2-1 at Ecuador. The Ecuadorians now have moved back to zero; they started the tournament at -3 after having three points deducted by FIFA for the falsification of birth information of defender Byron Castillo, who is of Colombian origin.
The 2026 World Cup in the US, Mexico and Canada is expanding to a 48-team format. The top six teams in South America will secure a direct spot. The seventh-place team will contest an intercontinental playoff for a berth.
BOLIVIA 0 ARGENTINA 3
Argentina defined the match in the first half with two goals, kept its pace in the second half and added a third near the final whistle. A red card for Bolivia’s Roberto Fernández in the 39th minute also made it less troublesome for the Argentinians.
Enzo Fernandez opened the scoring in the 31st from close range after a low cross by Di María from the right. The veteran striker also took part in the second goal — lifting the ball into the penalty box from a free kick in the 42nd for Nicolas Tagliafico to score with his shoulder.
Nico González added Argentina’s third in the 83rd with a crossed shot from the edge of the box that passed to the right of goalkeeper Billy Viscarra.
Messi applauded the goals from the bench in a stadium where 14 years ago he saw Argentina get hammered by the hosts by 6-1.
“The altitude is psychological,” Di Maria told journalists after his team’s victory.
Messi, the 36-year-old Inter Miami star, was neither in the starting lineup for the World Cup champions nor on the bench. Last week, he scored from a free kick to give Argentina a 1-0 home win against Ecuador in its first competitive international since winning the World Cup last December.
“He was not up to playing ... he did not feel comfortable,” Scaloni said. “We did not take risks.”
Messi’s absence disappointed many Bolivians, including hundreds of local fans who turned out to welcome him to the country Sunday evening.
ECUADOR 2 URUGUAY 1
A goal in each half from defender Felix Torres erased Ecuador’s points deficit in the standings in the competition.
Uruguay opened the scoring in the 38th minute with Agustín Canobbio from close range in one of the few moments that Ecuador did not dominate the first half.
Torres equalized with a header in first-half stoppage time.
Ecuador and their physical game continued to thrive against a young Uruguayan team in the second half. A quick play by 16-year-old Kendry Páez on the left flank ended in a low cross and Torres scoring again in the 61st.
The second goal gave relief to a crowded Casa Blanca Stadium in Quito. Eleven minutes earlier, striker Enner Valencia missed a penalty kick.
“What matters is that we did not get desperate,” Valencia said. “This is our first victory and we will keep making ourselves stronger here.”
Also on Tuesday, Chile and Colombia drew 0-0 and Venezuela beat Paraguay 1-0 with a goal from the spot by Salomón Rondón moments before the final whistle. It was the 33-year-old striker’s 40th goal for his national team.
The next games in South American World Cup qualifying will be played in October.