- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA (AP) - Argentina took its worst defeat in World Cup qualifying when it wilted 6-1 against Bolivia at high altitude Wednesday.

The result eclipsed the 5-0 defeat against Colombia in 1993 and ruined the early promise shown under coach Diego Maradona, who had earned three victories in three games with no goals conceded since he took over last November.

“To say to the fans that I suffered with them, (that) every Bolivia goal was a stab to the heart, what more can I say?” Maradona said.

Most of the Argentine squad _ 16 out of 23 _ had never played in the Bolivian capital about 11,800 feet above sea level, and they arrived only two hours before kickoff.

Maradona last year defended playing football at altitude following a FIFA decision to ban international games above 8,200 feet. He even played with Bolivia President Evo Morales in the city.

Bolivia, which remained second to last in the South American race, celebrated only its sixth ever win over Argentina _ all at home _ and first since 1997.

“This is the first time it has happened to me and, as I was told, it can happen,” Maradona said. “Hopefully this will be the only time and there won’t be any others, but I am calm.”

The Bolivians matched their most goals against Argentina by halftime, when they led 3-1 at Hernando Siles Stadium.

Joaquin Botero scored three times, in the 33rd, 56th and 66th minutes.

Marcelo Martins opened the scoring for Bolivia in the 12th, and Luis Gonzalez tied it in the 24th.

Brazilian-born Alex Da Rosa and Didi Torrico also scored for the home side.

Bolivia had lost 2-0 against Colombia in Bogota on Saturday in a game during which coach Erwin Sanchez decided to rest several regular starters including strikers Martins and Botero.

The plan worked to perfection against an opponent in positive mood following a 4-0 defeat of Venezuela on Saturday.

Bolivia pressured from the first whistle, playing at top speed. After Martins’ goal, Argentina tried to respond with Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi probing for an opening but failing to function on the same wavelength.

Argentina was a shadow of the side famed for its one-touch passing and possession. Errors were commonplace and the defense was penned back against a Bolivia side that attacked incessantly and refused to relent.

A poor clearance from the Bolivian defense proved the only route to goal for Argentina. Gonzalez’s long shot took goalkeeper Carlos Arias by surprise and flew into the back of the net.

Bolivia showed no mercy for the rest of the match, however.

Botero scored from a penalty, then as the first half ticked down, he cut in from the left and delivered a cross that Da Rosa buried with a header.

In the second half, Argentina tried to reorganize, cut space and hit on the break, but Bolivia continued pressing.

The combination between Botero and Martins again produced when Martins crossed for Botero to head home the fourth goal.

The outlook worsened for the Argentines in the 64th when Angel Di Maria was issued a red card.

With Argentina a man down, Bolivia scored a fifth when Botero struck following a pass by Luis Gatty Ribeiro. orrico scored from long distance to add gloss to the final scoreline.

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