Argentina will look to continue their surge up the 2018 FIFA World Cup CONMEBOL qualifying table on Tuesday, when they host Bolivia on Matchday 6.
The Albiceleste suffered a nightmare start to qualification but beat Copa America winners Chile in their last outing, and in Bolivia, they'll come against one of the weaker sides in CONMEBOL. The visitors have lost four of their five qualifiers so far.
Here's everything you need to know about Tuesday's match:
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes, Cordoba
TV Info: BeIN Sports en Espanyol
Argentina got their qualifying campaign back on track with a big 2-1 win over rivals Chile on Thursday, with Angel Di Maria and Gabriel Mercado taking care of the scoring for the Albiceleste.
The South American giants looked far from perfect against their neighbours, and plenty of questions surrounding the team remain.
Manchester City star Sergio Aguero might even be dropped to the bench after his poor showing, per La Nacion (h/t Goal's Daniel Edwards), and Barcelona star Lionel Messi once again failed to translate his superb domestic form to the international level, per ESPN FC:
ESPN FC @ESPNFC
STAT OF THE DAY: Lionel Messi failed to have a shot for the first time in 117 matches for Argentina vs. Chile. https://t.co/YupdMp3H8K2016-3-25 10:25:05
But Argentina won, against a team that broke their hearts in the Copa America final last summer, and given the side's struggles over the last few months, any positivity is cause for celebration. As of right now, the Albiceleste occupy fifth place in the CONMEBOL standings, good enough for a spot in the inter-confederation play-offs.
Bolivia sit ninth and have beaten just one team so far: winless Venezuela. On paper, La Verde should barely trouble the Argentinians, who are expected to feast on the Bolivian defence.
As reported by Reuters and Luis Ampuero for the Daily Mail, coach Julio Cesar Baldivieso has no plans to give any of the Argentina players special treatment, including Messi―which could be a recipe for disaster: “There won't be special marking on Messi. Football is played 11 against 11 and we are a team. To play against the best in the world has to be a motivation for the players.”
Bolivia's squad is mainly made up of players who ply their trade in the nation's top division and lack the kind of international experience needed to keep top stars like Messi and company at bay. As shared by Goal Argentina, the biggest challenge awaiting the Albiceleste might even be the pitch in Cordoba:
Goal Argentina @GoalArgentina
Así está el Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes, donde jugará la @AFA_seleccion el martes. (Video vía @mundo_D) https://t.co/zphnep6QW42016-3-27 15:58:07
The Bubble shared a photo of the sandy pitch, which will severely slow down the ball and should favour the Bolivians, who are expected to defend for their lives:
The Bubble @thebubblecom
Upcoming Argentina vs. Bolivia match: the state of the soccer field is a big concern https://t.co/kIk6KZVUMJ #sports https://t.co/NHraI3qqzD2016-3-28 21:11:16
Per Edwards, Manchester City's Nicolas Otamendi will be suspended, opening the door for his team-mate Martin Demichelis to start. In-form Gonzalo Higuain could replace Aguero up front, and the Napoli man should relish the opportunity to show his absurdly good form on the international level again.
Higuain hasn't been the most popular of Argentina's forwards since he missed a major chance during last year's Copa America final, which could―and likely would―have given the team its first major international title in years. Here's video of the miss:
But since then, Higuain has been in stunning form for Napoli, scoring an absurd 29 goals in 30 Serie A starts, per WhoScored.com. He's one of the most unstoppable strikers in the world right now and should give the squad a big boost.
Argentina are still looking for their best form and likely won't find it against Bolivia, but the visitors lack the talent to keep up with the Albiceleste, even when the latter have a bad day. Don't expect La Verde to grab any points in this one.
Prediction: Argentina 3-0 Bolivia