Pro-Messi banners cause controversy in Bolivia ahead of World Cup qualifiers

Over 600 people welcomed the Albiceleste to La Paz, but some feel the celebrations have gotten out of hand

The Bolivian sporting world is facing controversy after football fans in La Paz displayed banners and paintings welcoming Lionel Messi and the Argentine National Team ahead of Tuesday’s qualifying match for the 2026 World Cup. While many are eager to honor the 2022 winners, others feel the celebrations have gone too far.

The Albiceleste aim to make it two in a row after defeating Ecuador 1-0 on Friday behind a Messi free kick. Playing in La Paz is always a tricky proposition given the elevation of Hernando Siles Stadium (3,577 meters a.s.l.), but Lionel Scaloni’s club has a surprising advantage: the support of the home crowd.

Tickets for the match sold out weeks in advance, and over 600 people welcomed the Argentines when they arrived on Saturday. La Seleccion also encountered banners that read “Welcome, champions” and “Messi, you’re the greatest.” Street artists even painted a mural of the greatest players in Bolivian history shaking hands with the Argentine champions.

But not everyone in La Paz shares the artists’ excitement. Some have criticized La Paz Mayor Iván Arias, including congressman Alejandro Reyes, who wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “Don’t support the rival team with La Paz citizen’s money.” Many of Reyes’ followers echoed the sentiment.

For his part, journalist Ramiro Camacho argued that Bolivian fans should make their presence felt. “Argentina is the rival of our national team,” he said. “It’s not here on a friendly tour.”

Journalist Roberto Acosta joked that the mayor “must be desperate for a photo with Messi” and lauded one fan’s efforts to gather support for the home team.

According to the Bolivian sports site Diez, the effusive support for Argentina hasn’t sat well with the Bolivian National Team. “We have to attack and press high, so Argentina feels the strain of playing at this altitude,” said Bolivian goalkeeper Carlos Lampe.

The clash between Argentina and Bolivia, refereed by Uruguayan Esteban Ostojich, is scheduled for Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. Argentina time. The match can be watched for free on Argentina’s national public broadcaster, TV Pública, or on the cable sports channel TyC Sports.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald