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Published on March 28th, 2017 | by Peter Coates

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Argentina and Leo Messi facing World Cup oblivion in Bolivia

Despite a victory over Chile in World Cup qualifying, no-one in Argentina can ignore the fact that Leo Messi and his men are regressing under Edgardo Bauza

A victory over Copa America champions Chile, a ‘brilliant’ performance that manager Edgardo Bauza rated as ten out of ten and La Albiceleste up into third with World Cup qualification back on track, everything is right once more for Argentina, isn’t it?

No, not quite.

Bauza was fooling no one in his assessment and as much as he swatted away questions in the post-match press conference with false praise for his side, the gathered media made it clear that they, like everyone inside the Estadio Monumental or watching on television, witnessed a display that at a stretch can be admired for the battling qualities on show and little else.

Unable to fully commit to his Mourinho-esque distraction technique, in less than 24 hours Bauza admitted in an interview, “with my comments, I took the press where they wanted to go. I hope they criticize me and not the players.”

In that sense, Bauza’s comments have been successful as he rather than the players has been the subject of most debate but it could get far worse and the implications for the under-fire coach, who appears to have made no progress and is still struggling to find his best team and tactics, could be grave for Argentina.

The three points from the victory over Chile sent Argentina from sixth, outside the World Cup qualifying places, up to third, but with CONMEBOL standings so tight and Bauza’s squad facing the potential banana skin of Bolivia in the altitude of La Paz on Tuesday, there are twists ahead on the road to Russia.

Paulo Dybala was the only noticeable absentee from Argentina’s starting eleven on Thursday evening and the result was an almost midfield-less side with Sergio Aguero hopelessly out of position at number ten. Bauza may have claimed, “as much as were able to, we attacked well,” but the truth was a horribly disjointed side that failed to build any form of meaningful offense.

For Tuesday, Dybala will likely only be fit for a place on the bench but Bauza will be forced into plenty more changes after suspensions to Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia, Gonzalo Higuain and Nicolas Otamendi and further injury to Gabriel Mercado and Emmanuel Mas.

In response, Bauza called Argentine-based players Lucas Alario, Matias Caruzzo, Ivan Marcone and Javier Pinola to bolster the squad but the unfamiliar starting eleven in La Paz will see Enzo Perez and Guido Pizarro begin in midfield with Ever Banega, Angel Di Maria and Lionel Messi slightly further forward in support of lone striker Lucas Pratto.

Aware of the challenges posed by the altitude, Bauza has already said that Argentina will look to restrict Bolivia, while conserving energy for of the closing stages of the match and the under-fire coach is right to be mindful as La Albiceleste’s record in La Paz is far from convincing.

The humbling 6-1 defeat in 2009 under Diego Maradona still lives long in the memory but going back to the first ever encounter in La Paz in 1957 when El Verde picked up a 2-0 win, Bolivia have proved tough opponents on their own patch.

The two sides have met eleven times in Bolivia (nine in World Cup qualifiers and twice in Copa Americas) and the home side have won on six occasions with Argentina only winning three, the last time in 2005.

Argentina naturally dominate the head-to-head overall and have won their last four meetings with an aggregate score of 14-0 but Bolivia outside La Paz is a completely different proposition. Angel Hoyos’ side losing to Colombia last Thursday set a new record for the most away matches in World Cup qualifying without victory but crucially the coach opted to rest a number of his first team players, in preparation for the visit of Argentina.

Fully motivated, prepared and with a historical advantage, Argentina could be in for a rough afternoon and if Edgardo Bauza’s side are on the end of a defeat, they could well go into the final four rounds of fixtures (which include away matches against Uruguay and Ecuador) in fifth, the position which would require a playoff to reach Russia 2018.

Bauza has said that he dreams of Lionel Messi holding the World Cup aloft and stated that qualification is all that matters so that they can really prepare for Russia but that goal is still far from certain and time is running out for the tournament itself.

Argentina couldn’t look further away from a side that will win a third World Cup title having regressed with almost the same group of players that Alejandro Sabella took to the final in 2014. With no clear strategy, still heavily reliant on the individual brilliance of Lionel Messi and very few new players coming through, chances in Russia look slim and the outlook beyond that is bleak.

Qualification is all that matters in the immediate future and that continues on Tuesday in La Paz but Argentina’s failure to look ahead has seen its once lauded youth football suffer and after Russia that may well catch up with the senior side.

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About the Author

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Peter is a British football writer living in Buenos Aires, who specialises on Argentine football. His passion for the game in South America took him to Argentina in 2011 and aside from starting his own site ‘Golazo Argentino’, he has covered the national side for The Independent and acts as WhoScored’s expert on the Primera División.



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