Argentina’s road to World Cup qualifying redemption continued with a second win in the space of a week as Lionel Messi and Co. wreaked havoc upon Bolivia’s defence in a 2-0 win.
Gabriel Mercado scored in his second straight game for Argentina, with Lionel Messi getting on the scoresheet for his 50th international goal.
Gerardo Martino was keen to see his side build on an impressive performance against Chile last week and retained faith in the majority of players that provided a 2-1 win in Santiago.
Defence was on the agenda for Julio Cesar Baldivieso as he put plenty of numbers behind the ball to try and counter Argentina’s potent attack, which featured Gonzalo Higuain in place of Sergio Aguero, with Javier Mascherano returning in defence.
The gulf in class was obvious from the first whistle as Ever Banega hit the post after just 10 seconds.
Bolivia kicked off but quickly gave up possession as Higuain drove at the heart of their defence, breaking through and forcing a solid save from Carlos Lampe, but the ball only made its way to Banega.
The midfielder was forced into a tight angle but got off a decent effort which struck the crossbar and bounced clear.
Bolivia struggled to get the ball out of their defensive half while Argentina, hampered by an injured Angel di Maria, battled to get behind the packed defence.
But their patience and persistence was rewarded after 19 minutes when Mercado scored his second goal in as many games.
The right-back was in the right place at the right time for a simple tap in after a quick Messi free-kick released Higuain in the box.
He met the ball on the half-volley and lobbed Lampe but saw his effort stopped on the line by Ronald Eguino, but he only found Higuain with his clearance and the forward cut back to Mercado for the finish.
It took until the 27th minute for Bolivia to work the ball into Argentina’s box, and they conceded a second goal for their efforts.
Argentina countered with pace and purpose and it was Banega who picked up the ball on the left and drove into the box, only to be brought down and awarded a penalty.
Messi stepped up and made no mistake from the spot, hammering home Argentina’s second and his 50th for his country.
Di Maria was forced off before the break after his injury proved too much to overcome, paving the way for 21-year-old Angel Correa.
Not for a lack of trying, Argentina failed to add to their account in the second half, despite dominating.
Messi missed a header after 49 minutes, while Sergio Romero was called into action for the first time in Argentina’s goal after 54 minute when a decent Martin Smedberg-Dalence free-kick prompted a diving save.
At the other end, Lampe was sharp to make two quick saves in the 59th minute, before midfielders Lucas Biglia and Banega both missed the target from decent positions.
Aguero entered the fray for Higuain in the 78th minute but failed to find much space to work in.
The win moves Argentina into the top four after six games, taking them to three wins and two draws.
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