Messi-less Argentina cruise to WCQ win in Bolivia


Argentina have rested captain Lionel Messi but still made light work of Bolivia as they won 3-0 for their second victory of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

The 36-year-old Inter Miami star, who scored from a free kick to give Argentina a 1-0 home win against Ecuador in their first competitive international since winning the World Cup in Qatar last December, did not even feature on the bench.

Angel Di Maria took over as captain in Messi's absence and shone, providing two assists before halftime in La Paz.

Chelsea's Enzo Fernandez made it 1-0 after half an hour when he met Di Maria's cross with a close-range finish to score his third international goal.

Hosts Bolivia were dealt another blow five minutes later as they were reduced to 10 men after Roberto Fernandez was given a red card for an ugly tackle on Cristian Romero.

Nicolas Tagliafico doubled the lead and scored his first goal for Argentina with a header from a Di Maria free kick in the 42nd minute, before Nicolas Gonzalez's powerful strike sealed the win.

"It's two games in, we knew it was important to get six points for what's to come," the 35-year-old Di Maria told Argentine broadcaster TyC Sports.

"To be handed the captain's armband by the best player in the world is unbelievable, I'm very proud."

Brazil also made it two wins from two, thanks to a late goal from Marquinhos that earned them a 1-0 win over Peru in Lima, to join Argentina at the top of the South American qualifying standings.

Uruguay chances of joining their neighbours at the top of the table were scuppered by a 2-1 defeat in Ecuador, while Chile and Colombia drew 0-0.

The Ecuadorians have moved to zero points, having started the tournament at minus-three after a points deduction by FIFA over the falsification of birth information of defender Byron Castillo.

A goal in each half from defender Felix Torres in Quito erased Ecuador's points deficit after Uruguay opened the scoring in the 38th minute through Agustin Canobbio.

Venezuela beat Paraguay 1-0 with a goal from the spot by Salomon Rondon moments before the final whistle. It was the striker's 40th international goal.

The 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada is expanding to a 48-team format.

The top six teams in South America will secure a direct spot, while the team ranked seventh will contest an intercontinental playoff.

- with AP