Copa America 2019

Win or bust for Argentina

Lionel Messi is frustrated by Argentina's failure to manage a victory in two Copa America matches, having to save his team with a VAR-reviewed penalty against Paraguay in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on Wednesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Lionel Messi is frustrated by Argentina's failure to manage a victory in two Copa America matches, having to save his team with a VAR-reviewed penalty against Paraguay in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on Wednesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Saved by VAR penalty but still winless, they must beat Qatar in final game to progress

BELO HORIZONTE (Brazil) • Lionel Messi believes it would be "crazy" if Argentina, winless in two matches after another shaky performance, do not make it to the Copa America knockout stages this year.

Argentina, who lost 2-0 to Colombia last week, are still in control of their quarter-final chances after drawing 1-1 with Paraguay in the four-team Group B on Wednesday, thanks largely to the video assistant referee (VAR) system.

The top two from the three groups, plus the two-best third-placed teams, will progress.

Messi has urged his men to play their hearts out in their final group game on Sunday against invited side Qatar, the Asian Cup winners.

"Frankly, it's a little frustrating not being able to get the win we need to take the next step," the captain said. "We knew this would be difficult.

"The squad is hurt because we can't manage to win a game and we know today was key for us.

"We know we have to win the next game to advance. We know we'll be playing for our lives.

"It would be crazy if we can't advance from the group stage, when basically three advance from each group. I have no doubt we'll do it."

Paraguay could have been two up by the time Messi equalised in the 57th minute with a penalty.

  • 5

     • Goals Lionel Messi has scored against Paraguay, the most against any team while on international duty. All came from set pieces - one free kick and four penalties.

     • Penalties from 10 games in this Copa America, more than the four from 32 games awarded in the 2016 edition.

But they failed from the spot just minutes after taking the lead in the 37th minute through Richard Sanchez. Derlis Gonzalez's penalty was saved by goalkeeper Franco Armani, who was also lucky to avoid a red card when he fouled Gonzalez outside his box.

Argentina's best move came before Messi's penalty, when substitute Sergio Aguero chested down a cross and laid it off to Lautaro Martinez who hit the bar on the volley.

The ball fell to Messi, but his shot was tipped away by goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez.

Messi was preparing to take the resulting corner when referee Wilton Sampaio, prompted by the VAR, consulted the pitch-side screen and ruled that Martinez's shot had struck Ivan Piris' hand.

The Barcelona star and VAR saved the day for caretaker coach Lionel Scaloni, who admitted that Argentina had not played well and struggled to cope with the shock of conceding first.

"The solution is that we have to win. We are lucky to be alive," he said. "We have to look more like the second half, but be more balanced and thus be able to manage the game.

"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."

Argentina are still bottom of the group with one point from two games, behind Qatar on goal difference. Anything less than victory against the 2022 World Cup hosts will lead to an early exit and prolong Messi's wait to win a trophy with his country, with the 31-year-old having lost four major finals in seven tournaments.

Colombia beat Qatar 1-0 to clinch top spot on six points.

Paraguay, who also threw away the lead to draw 2-2 with Qatar in their opener, are second on two points and need to beat Colombia to be guaranteed a last-eight spot in the tournament in Brazil.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2019, with the headline 'Win or bust for Argentina'. Print Edition | Subscribe