Bolivia 1-1 Argentina
26 March 2013
World Cup Qualifier
Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz
Scorers: Martins (Bolivia), Banega (Argentina)

Argentina remain Unofficial Football World Champions after this tough draw in Bolivia. La Albiceleste had to come from behind in difficult circumstances, but held on to retain their title. Lionel Messi produced another breathless performance, but not in the manner that might have been expected.

The CONMEBOL 2014 World Cup qualifier was played at La Paz’s Estadio Hernando Siles, which is almost 12,000 feet above sea level, making it one of the highest sports stadiums in the world. The altitude certainly had a negative effect on Argentina, and at times Messi and company could be seen puffing due to the lack of oxygen.

The match kicked off at 1600 local time, or 2000 GMT (causing problems for UFWC fans watching from bars in London by clashing with the Montenegro versus England match). Gonzalo Higuain was suspended, so Argentina lined up with captain Messi supporting Rodrigo Palacio up front.

Influential midfielder Pablo Escobar missed out for Xabier Azkargorta’s Bolivia, who went with a front pairing of Carlos Saucedo and Marcelo Moreno Martins. (The latter is known as Marcelo Martins in Bolivia, and Marcelo Moreno in Brazil, where he plays his club football for Gremio.)

Estadio Hernando Siles by Manuel Menal / Flickr
Estadio Hernando Siles by Manuel Menal / Flickr

Bolivia, playing in green shirts, started brightly, but it was white and sky blue Argentina who had the first chance. Bolivia are the only CONMEBOL side Lionel Messi has never scored against, and his poor free kick was nowhere near changing that.

Then Bolivia went much closer to scoring. Full-back Marvin Bejarano sneaked in behind the Argentina back four, only to see his near-post shot brilliantly saved by Sergio Romero and cleared over the bar.

Soaking up pressure, Argentina attempted to hit Bolivia on the break through Messi and Angel di Maria. The latter set up Palacio, but the Inter Milan striker could only drive his shot against onrushing Bolivia keeper Sergio Galarza.

Bolivia’s goal was a textbook centre-forward’s header from Marcelo Martins. The Gremio striker rose brilliantly to power a glorious Alejandro Chumacero cross past Romero and into the back of the next. 24 minutes on the clock and Bolivia led 1-0.

Argentina looked for a quick response, and Di Maria went close twice within a minute, first with a header, and then with a shot that he dragged just wide of the goal. Bolivia also created chances, forcing Argentina’s back line to block a couple of shots from the edge of the box.

There were clear signs that Argentina were flagging due to the altitude, but a suitable tonic was provided in the form of an equaliser just before half time. Messi found Clemente Rodriguez on the left, and his cross was met by a stooping header from Éver Banega. It was the Valencia midfielder’s first international goal. 1-1.

Banega had Argentina’s best chance of the second half, with his curling shot brilliantly saved by Galarza. A Messi free kick that Galarza clawed away, and a highly optimistic Javier Mascherano shot from the halfway line were other Albiceleste efforts of note. Finally, Messi found himself one-on-one with Galarza, but the below-par star scuffed his attempted chip straight at the keeper.

Bolivia brought on striker Juan Carlos Arce as they pushed for a win, but for all their effort and possession they were pretty much restricted to shots from outside of the Argentina penalty area. There were no further goals, and the match ended as a draw.

That of course means that Argentina remain UFWC champions, and in terms of World Cup qualification they remain top of the CONMEBOL qualifying table. Argentina’s next UFWC title defence is another World Cup qualifier, against Colombia on 7 June. Colombia have won eight previous UFWC title matches, and are currently placed second behind Argentina in the World Cup qualifying table. Argentina won the previous qualifier between the two sides 2-1.

We will of course bring you a full preview of the Argentina versus Colombia title match nearer the time. Until then, keep a look out for big news and changes here at the UFWC, which is set to get even better as 2013 continues. You can keep up to date by following us on Twitter and Facebook.