Lionel Messi and Argentina withstood a tense first half on Tuesday in a 5-2 World Cup-qualifying win over Paraguay at Defensores Del Chaco in Asuncion.
And, of course, Messi scored two goals in the resounding victory.
In the first few minutes, both teams appeared to be feeling each other out. The ball bounced between sides, with neither making a strong run at goal and instead protecting the net against an early strike.
But Paraguay began to threaten in the sixth minute, with Victory Ayala floating a ball toward Roque Santa Cruz before Sergio Romero came off his line to snag it.
Sergio Aguero threatened son after, cutting through the Paraguay defense before finding Rodrigo Palacio, who was unable to find goal.
Paraguay was within range of scoring in the 11th minute, but disaster struck. After a throw-in into the Argentinian box, Pablo Zabaleta headed the ball down the field, which resulted in an Argentinian counterattack.
Aguero juked Roberto Fernandez on the counterattack, and the Paraguayan goalkeeper was left with no choice but to bring the 25-year-old down for a penalty.
Messi who took the ensuing spot kick in the 12th minute, sending Fernandez the wrong way and finding the lower-left corner of net.
FC Barcelona tweeted out the highlight:
Argentina had a opened an early lead in front of the Paraguay crowd, taking the sting out of home advantage. Argentina imposed its will early, sending a message to Paraguay.
The visiting team created more scoring opportunities, it pressed well defensively to take advantage of mistakes by the Paraguayans.
It wasn't long before Paraguay's Ariel Nunez responded, though, and in the 17th minute he sent a message to Argentina that Paraguay would not be bullied.
Nunez's attempt should have been saved by Romero, but the Argentina goalkeeper flubbed the save and the ball bounced into the net.
At 1-1, you wondered if the mistake by Romero would come back to haunt Argentina. Was this match headed for an upset?
Argentina threatened twice soon after, but Palacio and Messi were unable to convert.
Paraguay was granted several free kicks moving forward, only to do nothing with them. Romero made a nice save from Santa Cruz's menacing shot in the 29th minute.
Paraguay continued to play impressive football, earning another corner in the 31st minute, but it couldn't find the net.
That came back to hurt the hosts.
In the 32nd minute, Messi chested the ball for Aguero, who locked in and thundered it home past Fernandez for a 2-1 lead that Argentina carried into the break.
Paraguay had seven shots in the first half, but only two were on goal, via ESPN FC. Argentina posted six shots (four on goal). The two sides combined for 24 tackles in the first half.
The second half started much like the first, with each side taking a cautious approach.
That didn't last long. In the 50th minute, Angel Di Maria ignored Messi and Palacio as he found space and swung the ball into the net.
At 3-1, Argentina looked in control and Messi piled on the misery for Paraguay in the 53rd minute by slotting home another penalty.
B/R Football tweeted:
And that's four for Argentina, Messi slams home from the spot and records his 10th of the WCQs— B/R Football (@br_football) September 11, 2013
Argentina dominated the remainder of the match, pressing offensively and limiting Paraguay's chances. Home advantage had vanished, and now it was only a superior team doing work.
But Paraguay did not give up and in the 86th minute Samudio found Santa Cruz for their second. But it was too little, too late.
Maxi Rodriguez wrapped up the scoring with Argentina's final goal in the 90th minute.
Messi and Argentina showed why they top the South America World Cup qualifying table, turning it up a notch in the second half to dispose of Paraguay.
Paul Carr of ESPN tweeted after the match:
Argentina clinches its 16th World Cup berth (4th-most ever) and 11th in a row (4th-longest active streak).— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) September 11, 2013
Argentina top the table with 29 points and play Peru next on Oct. 11.
|Huge Armando Campagnaro||B|
|Jose Maria Basanta||C|
|Angel Di Maria||C-|