Lionel Messi (R) sits on the bench during the World Cup qualifying match between Bolivia and Argentina at Hernando Siles Stadium in La Paz, Bolivia, September 12, 2023. /CFP
Argentina have recently enjoyed an impressive 11-game winning streak, thanks to the formidable presence of Lionel Messi. However, one might wonder how the South American powerhouse fared after the superstar was left out of their matchday squad for Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Bolivia.
In the previous week, Messi showcased his brilliance in Argentina's triumphant 1-0 victory against Ecuador, where he mesmerized spectators with a remarkable 78th-minute free-kick that secured all three points in their opening qualifier.
In this latest endeavor, as Messi observed attentively from the sidelines, his Albiceleste comrades rose to the occasion, effortlessly cruising to a commanding 3-0 win over Bolivia despite the high altitude of La Paz.
Argentina's Angel Di Maria controls the ball during the World Cup qualifying match between Bolivia and Argentina at Hernando Siles Stadium in La Paz, Bolivia, September 12, 2023. /CFP
In Messi's absence, Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni included Benfica's veteran winger, Angel Di Maria, as the captain in the starting lineup. The visitors swiftly seized the advantage shortly after the half-hour mark when Di Maria expertly delivered a low cross from the right flank, flawlessly met by the Chelsea midfielder, Enzo Fernandez, who guided it home with precision.
Shortly thereafter, Bolivia's misfortune continued as they were reduced to 10 men when Roberto Fernandez received his marching orders for a second yellow card. Di Maria exploited the situation, playing a pivotal role in Argentina's second goal. He lofted the ball into the penalty box in the 42nd minute, and Nicolas Tagliafico duly directed the ball into the net using his shoulder.
With Argentina maintaining complete control, it was Nicolas Gonzalez who effectively sealed the deal in the 83rd minute. He unleashed a powerful strike near the post, leaving Bolivia's goalkeeper Guillermo Viscarra helpless to thwart the goal.
Argentina's midfielder Enzo Fernandez celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the World Cup qualifying match between Bolivia and Argentina at Hernando Siles Stadium in La Paz, Bolivia, September 12, 2023. /CFP
As a result of this convincing triumph, Argentina have extended their unbeaten streak in World Cup qualifiers to an impressive 23 matches, a remarkable run that dates back to 2017.
Amidst the enthralling display of attacking football, the absence of Messi left the Bolivians disheartened. The sentiment extended to the multitudes of local fans who eagerly gathered on Sunday night to offer their warm welcome to the superstar upon his arrival in the country.
"Leo [Messi] was not ready to play. Yesterday, he tried to start moving a little bit but he did not feel comfortable. We decided to not risk him," explained Scaloni after the win. "It wasn't necessary because important games are coming. And it was a difficult game, even him coming from the bench could be an injury risk."
Argentina will resume their qualifying campaign in October, as they prepare to take on Paraguay in Buenos Aires. Following this highly anticipated clash, the team will embark on a journey to Lima, where they will take on Peru in another crucial encounter.