MONTEVIDEO: Argentina rested captain Lionel Messi but they still made light work of 10-man Bolivia as they won 3-0 in La Paz to claim their second victory of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday.
Brazil also have the maximum six points from two games after a superb 90th-minute winner from Marquinhos against Peru in Lima for the only goal of the match.
But Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay suffered a setback, giving up the lead to end with a 2-1 defeat at Ecuador. In other qualifiers, Chile and Colombia drew 0-0 while Venezuela beat Paraguay1-0.
Messi, who has had a hectic schedule with his club Inter Miami, watched his teammates from the bench but was not listed as a substitute, having complained of tiredness after scoring the winner in Thursday’s 1-0 victory over Ecuador.
Angel Di Maria took over as captain in Messi’s absence and shone, providing two assists before halftime.
“It’s two games in, we knew it was important to get six points for what’s to come,” the 35-year-old Di Maria told Argentine broadcaster TyC Sports. “To be handed the captain’s armband by the best player in the world is unbelievable, I’m very proud.”
Chelsea’s Enzo Fernandez made it 1-0 after half an hour when he met Di Maria’s cross with a close-range finish to score his third international goal.
Bolivia were dealt another blow five minutes later as they were reduced to 10 men after Roberto Fernandez was given a red card for an ugly tackle on Cristian Romero.
Nicolas Tagliafico doubled the lead and scored his first goal for World Cup holders Argentina with a header from a Di Maria free kick in the 42nd minute, before Nicolas Gonzalez’s powerful strike sealed the win in the 83rd.
Brazil, who crushed Bolivia 5-1 at home on Friday, came up against a determined Peru side and looked set to be frustrated when Raphinha’s rocket in the 72nd minute was brilliantly saved by Pedro Gallese.
But in the final minute Neymar whipped in a corner and Marquinhos met it with a masterful glancing header that flashed into the far corner.
“I’m pleased with what we’ve shown in both games. Today’s game was a different atmosphere. The team had to score three goals to make one count,” interim coach Fernando Diniz told reporters. “It’s always important to win. I think we won with a lot of credit. I really enjoyed it.”
After an impressive start to his reign in charge of Uruguay, Argentine Bielsa saw his team lose to two goals from Ecuador defender Felix Torres in Quito.
Uruguay took the lead in the 38th minute through Agustin Canobbio but the home side levelled just before the break when Torres rose to power home a header from a Moises Caicedo cross.
A penalty award gave Ecuador the opportunity to take the lead after the break but Enner Valencia’s woeful effort from the spot flew wide.
But Torres showed his value again to grab the winner, sliding into a crowded box to turn in a low cross from 16-year-old Kendry Paez.
Colombia had to settle for a point in a disappointing goalless draw in Santiago, Chile.
Chile, with Alexis Sanchez back in the starting line-up, had the better of the game, playing some intelligent football in possession but like their opponents they lacked a cutting edge.
Venezuela defeated Paraguay at home thanks to Salomon Rondon’s injury-time penalty to raise hopes of making the World Cup for the first time in their history.
The qualification process for the expanded 48-team World Cup, to be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico, offers two extra places for South America with six teams qualifying directly.
The seventh out of the 10 nations will head to an inter-continental play-off.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2023