Argentina gets 1-1 draw in thin air of La Paz
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP)
Lionel Messi didn't score but he still helped Argentina earn a valuable point in the thin air of La Paz on Tuesday in a 1-1 draw with Bolivia in South American World Cup qualifying.
Marcelo Martins scored with a header in the 25th minute for Bolivia, while Argentina replied with a 43rd-minute equalizer from Ever Banega, with Messi involved in the move.
The hard-earned draw keeps Argentina top of the qualifying group with 24 points from 11 matches. Bolivia has only nine points and is unlikely to advance to next year's World Cup in Brazil. The top four advance automatically and the fifth-place team faces a playoff for a berth. Brazil qualifies automatically as host.
''This is a very good point,'' Messi said.
''We knew it was going to be like this,'' he added. ''We planned it this way with the forwards alone as we tried to get through it. ... We still haven't qualified yet, but we are getting closer.''
Argentina played slowly to save energy at the high altitude, and fielded five defenders.
Martins' header was unstoppable by Argentine keeper Sergio Romero.
However, the goal seemed to energize Argentina with Banega scoring with a header following passes by Clemente Rodriquez and Messi.
The 3,600-meter (11,800-feet) altitude in La Paz is an overwhelming advantage for the home side. Four years ago in qualifying in La Paz, Bolivia humiliated Argentina 6-1. Argentina was coached at the time by Diego Maradona.