Copa America 2019

Under-pressure Argentina keep hopes alive

Forward Lautaro Martinez stabbing home Argentina's early opener in the fourth minute of their final Group B match against Qatar in Porto Alegre on Sunday. Argentina won 2-0 to reach the quarter-finals and will face Venezuela.
Forward Lautaro Martinez stabbing home Argentina's early opener in the fourth minute of their final Group B match against Qatar in Porto Alegre on Sunday. Argentina won 2-0 to reach the quarter-finals and will face Venezuela.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SAO PAULO • Lionel Messi believes that Argentina's 2-0 Copa America win over Qatar on Sunday, their first in a tournament they have yet to set alight, could be the victory they need to kick-start their drive towards winning the title.

Argentina's win in Group B over the Asian champions, thanks to an early goal from Lautaro Martinez and a late strike from Sergio Aguero, has put them into a quarter-final against Venezuela in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.

"We played a good game and we won. That was what mattered," said captain Messi, who turned 32 yesterday.

"We needed a game like this to gain some confidence and calm. As we play more games the team grows through each one and that game was good for that.

"The important thing was to win to keep going in the Copa, to get through the group stage.

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  •  International goals Sergio Aguero has scored for Argentina in 93 matches. The goal against Qatar was his eighth Copa goal in 17 games.

"This will be an important boost for what's to come. This victory must give us strength and make us grow as a team."

Argentina came into the match under pressure after losing their opener 2-0 to Colombia and then held to a 1-1 draw by Paraguay.

Too many of their top players have failed to reproduce their club form at international level but they were at least creating chances up front against Qatar, even if they were vulnerable at the back.

The score did not reflect the number of chances - Argentina had 17 shots on goal to Qatar's four - but neither did it reflect the efforts of the Qataris, who matched Argentina for most of the first half before running out of steam.

But, while no one should draw too many conclusions from a victory over Qatar, who finished with one point for the tournament, the win sets Argentina up for a run at a title they have not won since 1993.

Coach Lionel Scaloni said he was content with the performance and delighted to still be in with a chance of silverware.

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  • Shots on goal by Argentina compared to four by Qatar.

"Of course there are things we can improve on but we're satisfied," he said. "We always tried to play football and pressure them high up the pitch. I think the second half was very good.

"The message has to be that as long as we're in the Copa America we need to keep pushing forward."

Meanwhile, Colombia will take "a lot of confidence" into the quarter-finals after winning Group B with a perfect record following Sunday's 1-0 victory over Paraguay, match-winner Gustavo Cuellar said.

Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz made 10 changes to his side with Colombia already guaranteed to top the group, but the second-string team still proved too strong for Paraguay. The Colombians even had a goal and a penalty award cancelled by VAR.

"We create a lot of dangerous chances, we're on the right path and we reach the next phase with a lot of confidence," said Cuellar.

Colombia had already won the group after victories over Argentina and Qatar (1-0), and finished the group stage without conceding a goal.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2019, with the headline 'Under-pressure Argentina keep hopes alive'. Print Edition | Subscribe