La Paz is situated roughly 3,650 meters above the sea level, making her the highest capital city on Earth and consequentially causing some visiting athletes to struggle due to the air pressure.
Until May 2007, FIFA, football’s international governing body, accepted Estadio Hernando Siles as a World Cup Qualifying venue, despite protests from visiting teams that the altitude gave the Bolivian national team an unfair advantage against opponents who had only a few days to acclimatize before playing.
On May 27, 2007, FIFA declared that no World Cup Qualifying matches could be played in stadiums above 8,200 feet (2,500 m) above sea level. Their decision was not accepted well by the Bolivians and Diego Armando Maradona.
Bolivian President Evo Morales and Diego Maradona reacted by claiming the new measure discriminated primarily against high-altitude nations in Latin America, especially those in the Andes.
The “Hernando Siles” became a symbol of the Bolivian struggle against FIFA’s ban on games at altitude.
After a month of campaigning against the ban, FIFA raised the altitude limit from 2500 meters to 3000 meters on June 27, 2007.
The next day, FIFA also announced a special exemption for the Estadio Hernando Siles, allowing the stadium to continue holding World Cup qualifying matches.
The ban was revoked in May 2008.
During 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018 World Cup qualifiers together, Bolivia had 14 home victories and 10 home draws, and only two away draws and no away victories.
Latin American giants like Argentina and Brazil have experienced shocking outcomes in La Paz and later on, the high altitude was cited as the main reason, and not only the big guns of Latin America, but others complained the same.
Certainly, it is never an easy task to play in such a suffocating environment and FIFA should have stuck to their decision back in 2007.
Brazil tasted their first-ever defeat in 40 years of playing in the World Cup Qualifiers in 1993, when Bolivia stunned them by 2-0 whereas, on April 1, 2009, Bolivia thrashed Argentina 6–1, inflicting the worst defeat for Argentina in 60 years.
6 months after, on October 11, in the same qualifying group for the World Cup 2010, Bolivia defeated an underweight Brazil 2–1.
Playing in La Paz is tough and both Scaloni, the Argentine coach, and superstar Lionel Messi are well aware of this fact.
Argentina’s last trip to La Paz in 2017 resulted in a 2-0 defeat, but this time around, Scaloni and his boys are ready to embrace the grueling challenge in La Paz.
“I am going to talk about it with the players one by one,” Scaloni said in an interview.
“We are going to evaluate everyone. Before we get to the pitch, we will not realize how players react. Coming two days before the match, the idea was to notice [the effects on individual players].”
“We need the players at 100 percent. If there is a player who is not at 100 percent, I will speak and make the best decision for the team. The important thing is the hour and a half before the game.”
“There is no formula, whether you come the day before the game or two days before. You have to spend 20 days training to have a physical condition equal to theirs.”
“Drowning! All the players are going to drown. The issue is the feeling that each one has. We are doing everything possible so that they can get to the game in the best way.”
“I spoke with everyone and with Lionel Messi in particular,” he continued.
“There are players who suffer more, others who suffer less, due to physical and training issues. We prepare the game in a way that we think can go well. It is a football match. We have a clear idea, we transmit it. The important thing is the journey of the ball.”
“We have to use all our weapons. We try to take away the anxiety. We have enough to come here and be at 3,000-odd meters. The more you have the ball, the better.”
Argentina started off the campaign in a quiet fashion but were able to maintain the unbeaten streak. They do have the quality players at the back and center of the park to give the frontline the much-needed fuel, still, a lot would depend on the charisma and experience of Messi.
Bolivia experienced a disaster in Sao Paulo and they would be hoping to turn things around in their home ground, which has been giving them an unfair advantage for a brief period.