Lionel Messi wary of Bolivian highlands

Argentina may be cruising towards the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but world player of the year Lionel Messi is still nervous ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Bolivia.

The South American heavyweights are four points clear at the top of the qualifying table and enjoy an 11-point gap to the first team outside the four automatic qualifying positions with just six games left.

Yet the trip to La Paz brings with it some bad memories for Messi and his teammates.

Last time Argentina played there in 2009 they were humiliated 6-1 and the Barcelona magician has not forgotten the uncomfortable feelings he had high up in the Andes that day.

“Bolivia is going to be very difficult because of the altitude. I have very bad memories from the last time,” he admitted.

“It’s hard to judge the bounce of the ball and I remember feeling very short of breath.”

Despite a side boasting the likes of Messi, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano and Javier Zanetti, under the chaotic guidance of legend Diego Maradona, Argentina suffered their biggest defeat in 16 years when they last visited La Paz.

So distressing was the result that Maradona was moved to say at the time: “I suffered with them. Every Bolivia goal was a stab in my heart.

“If we had dreamed this was going to happen before the game, we would have thought it was impossible.”

The 3,600-metre altitude no doubt played its role but given that several Andean countries play at club matches up in the mountains it cannot have been the only reason for such an inept showing.

An anomaly it certainly was as Bolivia failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup while Argentina duly took their customary place at the showpiece in South Africa.

Such an outcome is likely once again, not least because Bolivia are above rock-bottom Paraguay only on goal difference.

And while the visitors warmed up for this match with a comfortable 3-0 success over Venezuela, Bolivia were busy being thumped 5-0 in Colombia on Friday.

Messi is likely to be partnered by Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain in attack on Tuesday.

“‘El Pipa’ is a great player, a striker with a great eye for goal. We’re getting better with every game we play together,” said Messi of the partnership.

Behind Argentina, Colombia have been going well with Atletico Madrid’s Falcao firing in the goals.

They are four points behind the group leaders but with a game in hand and travel to Venezuela who dropped out of the automatic qualification positions after their loss in Buenos Aires and were replaced by Uruguay, who travel to Chile.

South American champions Uruguay are under pressure as they lead both Venezuela and Chile by just a single point and cannot afford to lose in Santiago.

The other match sees Ecuador, in third, tackle Paraguay, who sit five points off the top four.

Fixtures

Ecuador v Paraguay, Bolivia v Argentina, Venezuela v Colombia, Chile v Uruguay

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