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Argentina expected a tough battle in the altitude of La Paz. The World Cup champions’ climb looked even steeper with Lionel Messi out of the lineup.

But Argentina still beat Bolivia 3-0 on Tuesday in their second match of the new World Cup qualifying campaign.

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.

The visitors defined the match in the first half with two goals, kept their 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 the clash 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 by the right of goalkeeper Billy Viscarra.

Messi applauded the goals from the bench.

The 36-year-old Inter Miami star was not in the starting lineup for the World Cup champions nor available as a substitute. Messi 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.

Messi’s absence disappointed many Bolivians, including hundreds of local fans who turned out to welcome him to the country Sunday evening.

Argentina leads South American qualifying, but Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia, who also won their opening games, will play later on Tuesday and could join the World Cup champion on the top of the table.

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. The seventh-place team will contest an intercontinental playoff for a berth.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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