Argentina's Lionel Messi walks after national football team practice in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. Argentina will face Bolivia for a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup 2026, in La Paz, on Tuesday. Photo: AP
The 36-year-old Inter Miami striker left Argentina’s match against Ecuador late last week complaining of fatigue, which could impact coach Lionel Scaloni’s selections for Tuesday’s match in challenging conditions at La Paz’ altitude of 3,000 meters.
Scaloni told a news conference Sunday that he could leave a decision on Messi until a few hours before the match.
During Monday’s training, Messi sat on a chair close to Scaloni and watched his teammates practice. He spoke to the coach as other players tried to adapt to the altitude and the quicker speed of the ball, which is a characteristic that makes it so hard for visitors to win at Bolivia.
Scaloni gave no hints at the practice session on what he will do if Messi doesn’t play at the Hernando Siles Stadium against a team that was battered 5-1 by Brazil last week in its opening game of South American qualifying.
Messi scored from a free kick to give Argentina a 1-0 home win against Ecuador in its first official international since winning the World Cup last December.
The 2026 edition of the World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada is expanding to a 48-team format. The leading six teams in South America will secure a direct spot. The seventh-place team will contest an intercontinental playoff for another spot at the finals.
If Messi doesn’t play on Tuesday it will disappoint many Bolivians, including hundreds of local fans who turned out to welcome him to the country Sunday evening.
La Paz’ city hall sponsored an sign close to the venue of the match with the Spanish inscription “Sos grande Messi” (You’re great, Messi). The decision brought criticism to mayor Iván Arias.
Messi has never scored in La Paz, but has eight goals in 11 matches against Bolivia. If the star striker plays and scores on Tuesday, he will overcome Luis Suárez of Uruguay as the all-time leading goal scorer in South American World Cup qualifying.
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