Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has compared playing football in La Paz to “drowning” as he braces his team for the challenge posed by competing at altitude in Tuesday’s clash with Bolivia.
La Albiceleste will be hoping to build on their winning start to World Cup qualification on, having beaten Ecuador 1-0 on Friday.
But up next is one of the trickiest tasks on the South American football calendar; getting a result in La Paz.
It is situated roughly 3,650 metres (11,975ft) above sea level, making La Paz the highest capital city on Earth and consequentially causing some visiting athletes to struggle due to the air pressure.
Unacclimatised individuals are known to suffer from breathlessness much faster at such altitudes, giving Bolivia a significant advantage in some home matches.
Never has this been more applicable than when Bolivia thrashed Argentina 6-1 in 2009, despite the visitors having the likes of Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Javier Zanetti and Javier Mascherano in their starting XI.
Argentina’s last trip to La Paz in 2017 resulted in a 2-0 defeat, and with their squad vastly different this time around, Scaloni – who played in their most recent away win in Bolivia 15 years ago – is preparing the team for a gruelling challenge.
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“I am going to talk about it with the players one by one,” Scaloni said. “We are going to evaluate everyone.
“Before we get to the pitch, we will not realise how players react. Coming two days before the match, the idea was to notice [the effects on individual players].
“We need the players at 100 per cent. If there is a player who is not at 100 per cent, I will speak and make the best decision for the team. The important thing is the hour and a half before the game.
“There is no formula, whether you come the day before the game or two days before. You have to spend 20 days training to have a physical condition equal to theirs.
“Drowning. All the players are going to drown. The issue is the feeling that each one has. We are doing everything possible so that they can get to the game in the best way.”
Scaloni’s plan for the match will seemingly hinge heavily on captain Messi, with the Argentina coach emphasising the importance of retaining possession and exploiting set-pieces.
“I spoke with everyone and with Lionel Messi in particular,” he continued. “There are players who suffer more, others who suffer less, due to physical and training issues.
“We prepare the game in a way that we think can go well. It is a football match. We have a clear idea, we transmit it. The important thing is the journey of the ball.
“We have to use all our weapons. We try to take away the anxiety. We have enough to come here and be at 3,000-odd metres. The more you have the ball, the better.
“When we won in 2005, we scored goals from set pieces. They were specific situations and the game was defined there. We emphasise that.”
Argentina and Bolivia have met 20 times in World Cup qualifiers – all five of the latter’s victories coming at home.
Similarly, Argentina have only won on three of their 10 trips to La Paz and that 6-1 defeat 11 years ago is the joint-largest defeat in their history.
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