Bolivia beat Argentina 2-0 in a CONMEBOL qualification match for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at the Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz on Tuesday. Juan Carlos Arce and Marcelo Martins Moreno both found the net as an understrength Argentina struggled in the altitude.
Argentina's woes were compounded when Everton defender Ramiro Funes Mori exited on a stretcher in the first half with what looked like a knee injury, per BBC Sport. La Albiceleste have now slipped to fifth in the CONMEBOL qualifiers, per FIFA's official website. It's a position that would mean they'd need to go through a playoff to reach Russia if qualification ended today.
The visitors entered the game without attacking talisman Lionel Messi. The pint-sized Barcelona forward began a four-match suspension imposed after he used insulting language to an assistant referee during his country's recent win over Chile, per a statement on FIFA's official website (h/t Allan Valente of Sky Sports).
However, OptaJavier indicated La Albiceleste could cope without Messi based on their recent history in qualifiers when their No. 10 hasn't featured:
Still, despite the numbers, Argentina did struggle. They were behind on 20 minutes when right-winger Pablo Escobar teased in a cross Arce met emphatically. Arce's flicked header was too deft for Manchester United reserve goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
Meanwhile, Escobar continued his recent run as a prolific provider of goals for his country:
Football.London and Sambafoot writer Tim Stillman already thought things were looking ominous for Argentina, particularly without their usual source of inspiration:
In fairness, the visitors did create one worthy chance when Paris Saint-Germain creative ace Angel Di Maria was sent clear. However, Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe rebuffed Di Maria's effort, and Argentina's best opportunity of the first half was wasted.
This dismal number sums up Argentina's lack of impetus in the final third:
Things got worse for La Albiceleste after the break when Martins doubled Bolivia's lead. He had time to control a low cross from the left before rifling a shot past a helpless Romero.
The goal marked a landmark for Moreno at international level, according to Squawka Football:
Argentina couldn't muster any credible attacking threat during the remainder of the second half. Di Maria became marginalised, while skipper Ever Banega struggled to exert his influence and his quality in possession.
It's a damaging result for Argentina and a reminder of how reliant this squad still is on Messi's talents.
Argentina manager Edgardo Bauza said his team will continue to battle in the race for qualification, per the Associated Press (h/t Sports Illustrated): "We are alive. This is a fight that we will keep fighting."
However, Bauza did concede his players are concerned after another setback, per the same source: "Yes, the players are worried because no one likes to lose."
Bauza is right to be worried, given how sketchy Argentina's form has been. Things are likely to get worse if Messi remains unavailable.