Bolivia will be out to give Lionel Messi and Argentina a tough time on Tuesday when they face off in a high-altitude FIFA World Cup qualifying match in La Paz.
“We have to avoid the Bolivian lament of being the poor little things,” Bolivia coach Cesar Farias said, according to ESPN. “Let them say that we’re nasty, it doesn’t matter. But we want to eat the liver of our opponents at altitude.”
Bolivia will host Argentina at the Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz – one of the country’s two capital cities – 3,600 meters (11,800ft) above sea level.
“Playing in the Hernando Siles is not like other cities,” Farias added. “There’s nothing like it.”
The high altitude can be difficult for players to deal with if they aren’t acclimatized, and they can be left struggling to breathe, nauseous and lightheaded.
In South America’s qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, La Verde managed to claim home wins against Argentina and Chile as well as hold Brazil to a draw in La Paz.
Bolivia’s 2-0 defeat of Argentina in 2017 is hardly the first time La Albiceleste have struggled to deal with the conditions in La Paz, either.
In 2009, Bolivia demolished Messi and his teammates 6-1, which was the nation’s worst defeat in 60 years.
Four years later, the Argentina captain reportedly threw up on the pitch at the Hernando Siles as Bolivia held his side to a 1-1 draw, while teammate Angel Di Maria had to be supplied with oxygen.
“It is terrible to play here at altitude, so a draw is a good result for us,” Messi said at the time. “Every time you make an effort or play at high pace, you need time to recover.
“Some of the players had a headache and others felt a bit dizzy, but there was nothing wrong with me.”
Messi has played several other games at high altitude in Bogota, Colombia and Quito, Ecuador. Out of the six matches he has played in La Paz, Bogota and Quito, he has helped Argentina win just once. That victory was in his most recent high-altitude game, though, when he scored a hattrick in Quito to secure a 3-1 win over Ecuador in November 2017.
La Albiceleste opened their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win at home to Ecuador on Thursday, courtesy of a Messi penalty.
Argentina travelled to La Paz on Sunday, giving them two nights to acclimate to the altitude before Tuesday’s game, but it’s said effects of altitude sickness are believed to be at their worst after two to three days, so that decision could come back to haunt them.
Bolivia have just won two of their last 23 matches, however – against Myanmar and Haiti – and lost nine of their last 10, most recently a 5-0 thrashing by Brazil on Friday.
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