'Argentina are not just a one-man team'

Lionel Messi celebrating his 16th-minute penalty against Chile. Argentina next play Bolivia in the World Cup qualifiers.
Lionel Messi celebrating his 16th-minute penalty against Chile. Argentina next play Bolivia in the World Cup qualifiers.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Manager refutes talk they can't play without Lionel Messi, but evidence is to the contrary

BUENOS AIRES • Argentina manager Edgardo Bauza insisted that his side are not reliant on Lionel Messi after the striker netted the winner against Chile in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday.

The Barcelona star helped Argentina avenge last year's Copa America Centenario final defeat with a 16th-minute penalty.

It was his 58th international goal, which helped Argentina move third in the 10-team South American standings - eight points adrift of leaders Brazil.

Asked about the importance of Argentina's captain and all-time leading goalscorer to his team, Bauza told reporters: "I do not think the team is Messi-dependent.

"For me, the team played a great game that contained a great team like Chile. We won against a great rival."

Yet Messi's value to La Albiceleste is clear. He scored three of their five goals in the three wins they have recorded since Bauza took the reins last September.

FOOTBALL IS ABOUT 11 PLAYERS

I do not think the team is Messi-dependent. For me, the team played a great game that contained a great team like Chile.

EDGARDO BAUZA, Argentina manager, on whether his side are too reliant on talismanic captain Lionel Messi.

In his absence, Argentina lost in Paraguay and only drew against Peru and Venezuela. The only time Messi featured in a losing side managed by Bauza was last November, when they fell to Brazil.

Last year, Messi was left distraught after missing his penalty in the shootout at the Copa America Centenario in New York.

But he made no mistake at El Monumental after veteran Chile defender Jose Fuenzalida brought down Angel Di Maria with a clumsy challenge.

Chile, missing suspended midfielder Arturo Vidal but worthy of at least a draw, had a goal correctly ruled out for offside before Argentina central defender Nicolas Otamendi missed a golden opportunity to double his side's advantage.

Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez rattled the crossbar with a free-kick as Chile left empty-handed from a tense match on a terrible River Plate pitch.

The defeat means two-time reigning South American champions are still struggling to qualify for Russia.

They remain outside the four automatic qualification places, in sixth.

Chile boss Juan Antonio Pizzi said: "I think the final result was totally unfair, but the reality is that we lost. We now need to win on Tuesday (against Venezuela) to help ourselves in the qualifiers."

Colombia, who beat Bolivia 1-0 at home, are now in the fourth qualifying spot with 21 points, one ahead of Chile and Ecuador, who lost 2-1 away to Paraguay.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline ''Argentina are not just a one-man team''. Print Edition | Subscribe