Lionel Messi spares Argentina’s blushes against Paraguay with penalty… but now they face must-win game against Qatar to avoid embarrassing Copa America exit
- Argentina’s Copa America campaign is hanging by a thread after two games
- Lionel Messi scored a second half penalty to spare blushes against Paraguay
- They now have one point after two games and face a must-win final match
- Messi and Co must beat Qatar or they will suffer an embarrassing early exit
Despite another shaky performance in the Copa America, Argentina still have their fate in their hands to reach the quarter-finals after drawing 1-1 with Paraguay on Wednesday as fortune shined on their side three times.
Argentina captain Lionel Messi pulled his side level in the 57th minute after a handball by Paraguay’s Ivan Peris which no-one on the pitch appealed for but was spotted by a VAR review.
Richard Sanchez had given Paraguay the lead in the 37th minute, firing into the bottom corner after a lung-bursting run from Miguel Almiron down the left wing.
Lionel Messi came to the rescue for Argentina against Paraguay in the Copa America
The Argentina captain stepped up and converted to salvage a point in the Group B match
Collecting the ball and racing back to the restart, Messi wanted to go on and win the game
But in the end Argentina had goalkeeper Franco Armani to thank as he saved a late penalty
He was congratulated by his team-mates as his save kept their hopes of progressing alive
Paraguay were awarded a spot-kick of their own a few minutes later but Derlis Gonzalez’s shot was saved by Argentina keeper Franco Armani, who was lucky to avoid a red card when he fouled Gonzalez outside his area at the end of the first half.
Argentina are still bottom of Group B with one point from two games but they could progress to the last eight with a win over third-placed Qatar in their final group game on Sunday.
Anything less than victory against the Asian Cup winners will send Argentina out and further prolong Messi’s long wait to win a trophy with his country.
Argentina were looking to respond from defeat to Colombia and Messi tried to give a spark
Challenges were flying in and Paraguay’s Derlis Gonzalez sustained a nasty eye injury
But it was Paraguay who got the breakthrough when Richard Sanchez found the bottom corner
The result ensured Colombia clinched top spot in the group on six points after they beat Qatar 1-0 earlier on.
Paraguay, who also threw away the lead to draw 2-2 with Qatar in their first game, are second on two points and need to beat Colombia to be guaranteed a spot in the quarter-finals.
Argentina’s caretaker coach Lionel Scaloni admitted his side had not played well and struggled to cope with the shock of conceding the first goal.
‘Our first half was not good, we played with desperation at times and we couldn’t control the play or create attacks. We had a very clear plan but couldn’t execute it as we kept losing the ball,’ he told reporters.
‘They scored with their first attack and that caused us a lot of uncertainty. For a team like Argentina, which feels like it always has to win, the first blow is hard to take, but we assured the players at halftime that it was just one goal.’
Sanchez’s goal sparked wild celebrations as Paraguay look to reach the knockout stages
Argentina were stunned after Sanchez wriggled free and produced a smart finish to the corner
Messi winced as his side made hard work of it in Belo Horizonte sitting bottom of Group B
Argentina’s best move came when substitute Aguero chested down a cross and laid it off to Lautaro Martinez who hit the crossbar on the volley. The ball fell to Messi but the captain’s shot was tipped away by Paraguay keeper Roberto Fernandez.
Messi was preparing to take the resulting corner when the referee went to consult the screen and then ruled that Martinez’s shot had struck the outstretched hand of Peris.
The Barcelona forward, who is playing at his eighth major tournament with Argentina and has already lost four major finals, blasted in from the spot but an awfully timed tackle by Nicolas Otamendi threatened to undo his good work.
Yet Argentina enjoyed a third slice of good fortune as Armani came to the rescue by punching Gonzalez’s spot-kick away, and the River Plate goalkeeper also saved a later free kick from Matias Rojas.
It was a feisty affair with a number of stern challenges made with both sides chasing the win
Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero endured a difficult evening as he looked to step up
In the end Messi urged calm from team-mates as Argentina face a must-win game vs Qatar