LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Argentina expected a struggle in the altitude of La Paz. The World Cup champion's climb appeared even steeper with Lionel Messi out of the lineup.
Argentina still beat Bolivia 3-0 on Tuesday in its second match of the qualifying campaign for the 2026 World Cup.
It's now two for two in qualifiers for coach Lionel Scaloni's team, which was led by veteran Ángel Di María and a strong midfield.
Brazil joined Argentina on six points atop the South American standings after a last-minute 1-0 win at Peru.
Uruguay had a chance to join the leaders but lost 2-1 at Ecuador.
The Ecuadorians now have moved back to zero; they started the tournament at -3 after having three points deducted by FIFA for the falsification of birth information of defender Byron Castillo, who is of Colombian origin.
The next World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada is expanding to a 48-team format, meaning direct entry to the top six teams in South America. The seventh-place team will contest an intercontinental playoff for a berth.
Colombia is in third place on four points after a 0-0 draw with Chile on Tuesday. Uruguay and Venezuela each have three points, followed by Paraguay, Peru and Chile with one point each.
The next games in South American World Cup qualifying will be played in October.
BOLIVIA 0, ARGENTINA 3
Argentina defined the match in the first half with two goals, kept its pace in the second half and added a third near the final whistle. A red card for Bolivia's Roberto Fernández in the 39th minute also made it less troublesome for the Argentinians.
Enzo Fernández opened the scoring in the 31st from close range after a low cross by Di María from the right. The veteran striker also took part in the second goal — lifting the ball into the penalty box from a free kick in the 42nd for Nicolas Tagliafico to score with his shoulder.
Nico González added Argentina's third in the 83rd with a crossed shot from the edge of the box that passed to the right of goalkeeper Billy Viscarra.
Messi applauded the goals from the bench in a stadium where 14 years ago he saw Argentina get hammered by the hosts by 6-1.
“The altitude is psychological,” Di María told journalists after his team's victory.
Messi, the 36-year-old Inter Miami star, was neither in the starting lineup for the World Cup champions nor on the bench. Last week, he scored from a free kick to give Argentina a 1-0 home win against Ecuador in its first competitive international since winning the World Cup last December.
“He was not up to playing ... he did not feel comfortable," Scaloni said. “We did not take risks.”
Messi’s absence disappointed many Bolivians, including hundreds of local fans who turned out to welcome him to the country Sunday evening.
PERU 0, BRAZIL 1
Brazil arrived in Peru amid high praise following a 5-1 battering of Bolivia on Friday. But very little of that enthusiasm remained after the final whistle was blown in Lima, despite the team's victory.
The Selecao had two goals disallowed in the first half by VAR __ including a Richarlison header that referees took 7 minutes to decide. It started the second half full of attack but Peru defended stoutly and showed that the new Brazil system under interim coach Fernando Diniz is far from a finished product.
Brazil had plenty of passing mistakes, including several by Neymar, and angered Diniz throughout the second half. Relief only came after a corner kick taken by Neymar found Marquinhos' head in the 90th minute.
“This will be the face of the national team. We will be very aggressive,” Marquinhos told journalists after the match. “No one thought we could score from a dead ball at that point, but that is part of our game, too.”
Substitute striker Gabriel Jesus said criticism of Brazil at this stage is unfair considering beating Peru in Lima is a good result for any team.
“We are still evolving as a team, and these points will be very important down the road,” he said.
ECUADOR 2, URUGUAY 1
A goal in each half from defender Felix Torres erased Ecuador's points deficit in the competition standings.
Uruguay opened the scoring in the 38th minute with Agustín Canobbio from close range in one of the few moments that Ecuador didn't dominate the first half.
Torres equalized with a header in first-half stoppage time.
Ecuador and its physical game continued to thrive against a young Uruguayan team in the second half. A quick play by 16-year-old Kendry Páez on the left flank ended in a low cross and Torres scoring again in the 61st.
The second goal gave relief to a crowded Casa Blanca Stadium in Quito. Eleven minutes earlier, striker Enner Valencia missed a penalty kick.
“What matters is that we did not get desperate," Valencia said. “This is our first victory and we will keep making ourselves stronger here.”
Also Tuesday, Venezuela beat Paraguay 1-0 with a goal from the spot by Salomón Rondón moments before the final whistle. It was the 33-year-old striker's 40th goal for his national team.
AP Sports Writer Mauricio Savarese contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.
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