Bolivia vs. Argentina: 6 Things We Learned from World Cup Qualifier
Argentina travelled to Bolivia on Tuesday night to face the difficulties of playing football in the high-altitude conditions of La Paz. A 1-1 draw, given the circumstances will be seen as a good result.
Coach Alejandro Sabella named a much changed lineup for the encounter, which was Argentinas first visit to the Bolivian capital since a 6-1 defeat under former manager Diego Maradona. That ghost was, at least, laid to rest.
Bolivia will, for their part, be left with mixed emotions. Any points are generally a plus for the side bottom of the South American pile, but at home, wins against the big boys become an achievable objective.
What, then, can we learn from the tie between South America's best and one of South America's worst sides in qualification thus far?
Marcelo Moreno Enjoys Facing Argentina
Gremio striker Marcelo Moreno is not having the best of times at club level, but there was no way that he was going to miss out against Argentina on Tuesday night.
Moreno scored with a fine first-half header on the night and was a general nuisance to the opposition defence throughout. The strike was his third in his past three qualifying fixtures against Argentina.
His physical play caused problems for the Argentine back three and allowed Bolivia to bring the likes of Rudy Cardozo and Alejandro Chumacero into play. It was a true, old-fashioned target man display.
Despite not being a favourite of current manager Vanderlei Luxemburgo at club level, Moreno remains a potent attacking threat and has a good return of 11 goals in 36 international games.
At just 25 years old, though, it appears that he may be ready to call time on his international career if reports are to be believed (h/t Sambafoot).
Alejandro Sabella Was Right to Change His Team
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella made a raft of changes to his side that beat Venezuela on Friday night, with nine new faces coming into the team for the encounter in La Paz.
The energy-sapping effects of the extreme altitude of the Bolivian capital are well-known, and Sabella chose to enter the encounter with fresh legs, resting most of those involved just days earlier.
The decision paid off, with La Albiceleste claiming a point in what was always going to be a difficult away fixture. They remain comfortably clear at the top of the qualification table and are almost certain to reach next year's World Cup.
As a bonus, Sabella has now also been able to see how some of his less experienced players would cope in a pressured environment. A good night all round and a troublesome tie ticked off the schedule.
Rudy Cardozo Could Be Central to Bolivia's Future
Bolivia may not be one of South America's better sides, but that does not mean that they are without talented individuals. At 23 years old, Rudy Cardozo is one of those with a bright future ahead of him.
The No. 10 was influential against La Albiceleste, drifting around the midfield area in an attempt to find space from which to influence the game. It was, indeed, his flicked pass that found space for Chumacero to cross for the Bolivian goal.
Cardozo has a wonderful left-foot when allowed time on the ball and, although his performance levels dropped off in the second half, it was easy to see why he has been entrusted with being the team's playmaker.
No one is expecting Bolivian World Cup qualification again any time soon, but Cardozo could end up being one of the nation's best players of recent years.
According to reports in his homeland, a move to Russian Premier League side Alania fell through over a medical last summer. Hopefully, though, he will be given another chance to shine in Europe further down the line.
Argentina Still Lack Quality Cover in Defence
It is widely agreed that the Argentine national team are a much better defensive unit under Sabella than they have been in some time, but the game against Bolivia reinforced some fears about the lack of depth to the defence.
Monterrey's Jose Basanta made his debut in the encounter and made a couple of noticeable errors as Bolivia looked to seek out Moreno in the centre, while both Hugo Campagnaro (pictured) and Seba Dominguez showed signs of fallibility.
At wing-back, the inexperienced Gino Peruzzi showed naivety at times and, although he also demonstrated his uses in attack, may not be ready for this stage in a defensive capacity.
The Velez full-back has acquired a reputation after solid displays against Neymar for club and country, but he still has much to learn in his position.
For Clemente Rodriguez on the other flank, it was an even worse affair as Bolivia frequently found space on the right in the early stages. An assist aside, he will have done little to press his international claims.
It was a positive evening in general for Argentina, but there can be no doubting that Sabella will have been worried by the ease at which Bolivia were able to attack in the opening stages in particular.
Bolivia Are the Worst Team in South America by a Distance
Given that they have just secured a 1-1 draw with the team comfortably topping the rankings in South American qualification, it is an odd comment to make. Their lack of quality, though, was evident throughout.
Given the natural advantage of playing at altitude in La Paz, their high-pressing game ensured them a large share of possession and opportunities to feed Moreno in front of goal. Moreno and Cardozo aside, there was little of note on display.
Argentina beat Venezuela 3-0 in Buenos Aires on Friday, but the Vino Tinto had looked threatening on the counter.
They had players who looked like they could cause damage; Boliva don't.
If news of Moreno's retirement is true, then they will be further adrift. While Venezuela and Peru in particular are rapidly improving, Bolivia are showing little signs of such progress. This display, despite a positive result on paper, was just further confirmation.
Sadly, given the woeful performance of the nation's Under-20 side in January's South America Youth Championship, it is a situation that is unlikely to improve in the near future.
Rodrigo Palacio Is in Favour but Must Take His Chances
With regular striker Gonzalo Higuain rested for the encounter on Tuesday night, it was the turn of Inter Milan's Rodrigo Palacio to get a shot at leading the Argentine forward line.
We recently looked at whether Palacio should be taken to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and concluded that he would most likely be a squad member, with Higuain the undisputed starter at present.
Palacio, though, must seize his opportunities when they arise if he is to be certain of his place in the squad. He was anonymous for long periods of the encounter, as can happen away from home, but crucially missed his golden opportunity.
When the ball fell to him in the centre of the area in the first half, he had to score. Fine work from Bolivian goalkeeper Sergio Galarza kept him out, but it was an effort that a top striker should have done better with.
While Franco Di Santo and Hernan Barcos are not the most highly rated of competition for his shirt, it is the lurking spectre of a return for Carlos Tevez that will worry him most.