LA PAZ - Diego Maradona's honeymoon as Argentina coach came to an abrupt end on Wednesday when his side suffered an extraordinary 6-1 defeat to Bolivia in a World Cup qualifier at high altitude. Striker Joaquin Botero, who plays for Mexican second division team Correcaminos (Roadrunners), scored a hat-trick while Marcelo Martins, Didi Torrico and Brazilian-born Alex da Rosa shared Bolivia's other goals at 3,600 metres above sea level. Luis Gonzalez replied for the visitors who suffered their worst defeat since their 5-0 home loss to Colombia in 1993. Argentina, who won their first three games under Maradona without conceding a goal, also had substitute Angel di Maria sent off after only seven minutes on the pitch. "I suffered with them (the Argentine public)," Maradona, appearing short of breath, told reporters. "Every Bolivia goal was a stab in my heart. "If we had dreamed this was going to happen before the game, we would have thought it was impossible." Before becoming Argentina coach, Maradona had backed Bolivia's campaign against a FIFA ban on matches at high altitude, taking part in a charity match in La Paz alongside President Evo Morales last year. The ban was later overturned. "I saw that our team was very inspired," said Morales, a soccer fanatic. Argentina looked breathless in the rarefied air and struggled with a pitch more suitable for grazing cattle than international soccer. Their attempts to keep possession were thwarted as the ball bobbled around as if in a park game. Despite the trying conditions, there was no logical explanation for such an abject Argentine performance, especially their woeful defending. Maradona's team are still well-placed to qualify for the 2010 finals in South Africa with 19 points from 12 games in the 10-team South American group. Bolivia, with 12 points, have an outside chance. MESSI CLOSE Bolivia employed their usual tactic of peppering the visitors' goal with long-range shots, hoping the unusual flight of the ball would catch out goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo. Carrizo had already turned away one Martins shot before Bolivia went ahead in the 12th minute when the Ukraine-based forward scrambled the ball in after a mix-up in the defence. Torrico hit the crossbar with a 30-metre effort as the ball flew around the pitch like a beach volleyball. Lionel Messi nearly pulled one back in the 20th minute and five minutes later, Luis Gonzalez levelled with a speculative 40-metre shot which bounced awkwardly in front of goal and flew over goalkeeper Carlos Arias into the net. Bolivia regained the lead eight minutes later when Javier Zanetti was judged to have fouled Da Rosa and Botero converted the penalty. In the 45th minute, Botero got behind the Argentina defence and pulled the ball back for Da Rosa to head the third. Botero headed Bolivia's fourth in the 54th minute and was on target again 11 minutes later when he latched on to a chipped ball forward and slipped a neat finish past Carrizo for his eighth goal of the qualifiers. Di Maria replaced Maxi Rodriguez just before the hour and was sent off in the 64th minute for a wild lunge at Ronald Garcia before Torrico added a late sixth.
2 April 2009
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