BUENOS AIRES - Bolivia have their first chance to show that April's 6-1 win over Argentina was no fluke when they face Venezuela in the South American World Cup qualifiers on Saturday.
Venezuela, determined to avoid the mistakes made by Diego Maradona's team for the match at 3,600 metres above sea level in La Paz, have made special arrangements for the game.
Coach Cesar Farias has assembled a squad which includes a number of players promoted from the under-20 team and has been training at high altitude for three weeks.
Argentina, on the other hand, arrived in La Paz two hours before kick off and relied largely on the players who had faced previous opponents Venezuela four days earlier.
Bolivia are ninth in the 10-team group with 12 points and Venezuela are one place and a point above them. Both still have an outside chance of qualifying for the finals in South Africa.
"On Saturday, we'll see if they're just youths, if they're a team with no experience," Farias told reporters. "Venezuela have come for the three points."
Bolivia's win over Argentina re-ignited the controversy over matches at high altitude.
Erwin Sanchez's team denied that the altitude was solely responsible for the result, although a number of Argentina players, including Lionel Messi, said it was impossible to play their normal game.
Curiously, Bolivia striker Joaquin Botero, who scored a hat-trick against Argentina and is the group's leading scorer with eight goals, has since announced his international retirement.
With six rounds of the marathon 18-match contest still to play, the group is wide open. Paraguay, virtually assured of a fourth successive World Cup appearance, lead with 24 points from 12 games while only nine points separate second-placed Brazil (21) and ninth-placed Bolivia.
The top four teams qualify directly for the 2010 finals while the fifth plays off over two legs against the fourth team from CONCACAF.
Argentina host Colombia as they attempt to bounce back. Precariously placed in fourth spot with 19 points, Argentina must win to restore confidence in Maradona's coaching abilities and keep themselves in the qualifying positions.
Uruguay, lurking two points behind Argentina in fifth place, face Brazil in Montevideo, where they always make life difficult for the five-times world champions.
"We have to mark them well and try to create problems for them because we are playing at home and this is one of the chances we still have to get points," said Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez.
Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino is still working out how to rebuild his team, who will be missing regular defenders Dario Veron and Paulo da Silva and striker Salvador Cabanas through suspension for the visit of Chile.
Striker Roque Santa Cruz, who has been out of action for two months with a knee injury, has an outside chance of playing.
Surprise package Chile are third with 20 points and well-placed to qualify for the first time since 1998.
Ecuador, seventh with 14 points, visit table-propping Peru on Sunday missing both their regular central defenders Giovanni Espinoza and Ivan Hurtado.
It will be their first competitive match for nine years in which neither player has been present.comments