Maradona falls from a great height
Bolivia 6 - 1 Argentina.
The inevitable reaction, both in South America and the wider world, is to blame the altitude of La Paz, where the match was played. But whilst that undeniably played a part, it's not the whole story. It's not as if Bolivia are unbeaten at home, after all. For another thing, a thrashing of this magnitude is unheard of. The scoreline equals Argentina's worst-ever result, a 6-1 defeat at the hands of Czechoslovakia during the 1958 World Cup, and given the chances Bolivia didn't put away, it could have been even worse.
Bolivia's biggest ever win, 9-2, came in 2000 at home to Haiti. Given the relative strengths of the opponents, though, Wednesday's result has to be their most impressive, and this is why altitude alone shouldn't be used to delegitimise Bolivia's achievement: this match has brought an historic scoreline for both teams.
Maradona had spoken on his arrival in La Paz on Tuesday of his admiration for Bolivian president Evo Morales and the way he threw his weight, a couple of years ago, behind the campaign to allow the country to play their home matches in the capital. La Paz is the world's highest capital city, and the difficulties of keeping one's breath whilst sightseeing - never mind running round a football pitch - are well documented, but on Wednesday evening the Argentina boss refused to blame the altitude for his side's defeat, instead praising their good level of play.
It was an issue of course, but Maradona's point lay in the fact that, whilst the effects of playing at altitude could explain a certain listlessness in the attack, and a tendency to shoot on sight more frequently than normal, it doesn't explain why the defence decided the concept of marking opponents and trying to tackle them from time to time was something they could do without. Some observers might remark that a lack of decent defenders cost them as much anything. Gabriel Heinze is still first-choice, for heavens' sake.
It's also an idication of Bolivia's capabilities when facing the main contenders in this campaign. A 0-0 draw in Rio piled the pressure on Brazil coach Dunga in September, whilst Paraguay were dispatched 4-2 in La Paz in June - until last weekend, the leaders' only defeat in the current qualifying campaign. On Wednesday, Joaquín Botero - who had an unhappy spell with Argentina's San Lorenzo in 2006, and now plays in the Mexican second division - ran riot, scoring a hat trick.
Bolivia away is never an easy game, even if the side have historically struggled to hit the heights on the road. Their one international triumph, the 1963 Copa América, came on home soil. Visitors have used various methods of acclimatising to the altitude, which put simply means thinner air, and therefore less of the oxygan required for aerobic exercise such as sustained periods of running around. More moisture is lost from the lungs when breathing at higher altitudes, so in La Paz dehydration can be a problem for visiting sides.
When they can, teams choose to arrive as far in advance as possible so as to acclimatise properly, but this can't always be done. Argentina played at home at sea level on Saturday, for instance. So an alternative is to fly in the day before the match, or even on the same day, and get the game out of the way before the worst effects of altitude change really kick in, which is around 72 hours after arrival if we're talking about aerobic exercise.
In 1973, Argentina prepared for a qualifier in La Paz for West Germany '74 by sending a full squad of players to train for several weeks in the mountainous Andean northwest of Argentina and in Peru. This side, known as the "ghost team", never actually played together - half the team arrived from Buenos Aires hours before kick off, and Argentina won anyway, 1-0.
Elsewhere on the continent, though, results ensured Argentina can't afford many more slip-ups if they want to avoid pinning their hopes on an away tie with their hated rivals Uruguay towards the end of the campaign. Whilst qualifying leaders Paraguay lost to Uruguay and drew with Ecuador, Brazil took four points from two games (they were incredibly lucky, it must be said, to get a 1-1 draw away to Ecuador at the weekend - the result could easily have been an emabarrassment of similar proportions to that suffered days later by Argentina) and Chile beat Peru and drew with Uruguay. This leaves Argentina fourth, two points above Uruguay, who occupy the playoff spot.
Bolivia? They're still second-bottom, five behind Uruguay. They beat Brazil in 1993 and qualified for USA '94. A year later the conquered side won their first World Cup in 24 years. Next year will be 24 years since Maradona's triumph as a player in Mexico '86, but lessons will have to be learned if he's to repeat that feat as manager.