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Without Lionel Messi, Argentina loses in Bolivia and now faces a difficult World Cup qualifying fight

No one struggles with the altitude in La Paz quite like the Albiceleste.

Australians Watch The 2014 FIFA World Cup Final Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

Just six hours before their match against Bolivia, Argentina learned that they’d be without their best player, Lionel Messi. FIFA handed a four-match ban to the Barcelona superstar for verbally abusing an official in La Albiceleste’s game against Chile, leaving his team a bit shorthanded in La Paz.

The game went poorly for Argentina, who lost 2-0. It’s the third consecutive World Cup qualifying game that they’ve failed to win away to Bolivia.

Before the match, Argentina manager Edgardo Bauza — who will be lucky to avoid getting fired — unveiled a lineup that was widely panned:

From this selection, it’s clear that he wanted to pick his fittest players — ones that he thought could deal with doing a lot of running at the 11,932-foot altitude Estadio Hernando Siles. But with Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala available for selection, Bauza’s decision to use neither of them was bizarre.

Argentina had some decent chances on the counterattack but couldn’t beat Bolivia at their own game in their own stadium. Juan Carlos Arce put Bolivia ahead in the 31st minute, and the hosts never looked back.

Marcelo Moreno doubled Bolivia’s lead in the 52nd minute, prompting Bauza to turn to his bench and introduce Aguero. But by then, it was too late. With a two-goal lead and the advantage of the altitude, Bolivia could just sit back, take no risks, and make Argentina run themselves into the ground.

Argentina will have to wait for later results to see how far they’ve fallen behind their rivals. But no matter what, they’re in for a serious fight over the last four World Cup qualifying fixtures. Brazil and Uruguay are nearly locked into qualifying places, leaving the Albiceleste, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile to battle it out over two automatic qualifying places and a playoff spot. Paraguay and Peru aren’t completely out of the running either.

Three of those four games will be played without Messi, and Argentina can’t seem to win when he doesn’t play. They now have one win, five losses, and two draws in the last eight games they’ve played without their superstar. Messi’s return will be in another tough away game at altitude — against Ecuador in Quito — and it might be a must-win.