Argentina were knocked out of the 2016 Summer Olympics on Wednesday, as the team drew 1-1 with Honduras in their final group-stage match. The team had to win to qualify for the knockout stages, but despite dominating possession for large stretches of the match, scoring opportunities were few.
The Albiceleste were the better team during the first half but twice escaped facing a deficit, as Honduras missed one glorious chance and Geronimo Rulli saved a Bryan Acosta penalty in injury time.
Angel Correa missed a penalty as well to keep the score tied early in the second half, and it was Anthony Lozano who gave Honduras the lead with another penalty. Mauricio Martinez equalised with a free-kick in injury time, but a late push for a winner amounted to nothing.
As shared by sports writer Daniel Edwards, Argentina were forced to make a change to their starting XI, as Leandro Vega came in for the suspended Victor Cuesta:
Daniel Edwards @DanEdwardsGoal
Argentina line up like this for do-or-die Olympic clash vs Honduras. Just one change, Vega for suspended Cuest at CB https://t.co/qqp6VhJwmE2016-8-10 15:38:11
The Albiceleste came into the match knowing only a win would put them into the knockout stages, as Honduras sat ahead of them in the standings by virtue of a superior goal difference.
The team started with plenty of possession against a Honduras side seemingly happy to sit back and aim for the counter, and two early shots on goal barely troubled goalkeeper Luis Lopez. Correa couldn't aim his effort on target, and he didn't fare any better minutes later after some great work from Jonathan Calleri.
Calleri should have done better when the ball fell kindly to him inside the box, missing the goal by inches as the Argentinian team increased the pressure. Acosta was forced to pull on the handbrake to break down an attack, earning an early booking for his troubles.
Lautaro Gianetti was the next to miss from a promising position, as his header following a Correa cross flew harmlessly out of play, and Honduras nearly shocked the favourites with their first counter, as Lozano put goalkeeper Rulli in serious trouble with a hard strike.
Sports writer Jake Davies thought a deficit was the last thing Argentina needed:
Jake Davies @jakedavi5
Best chance of the game falling to Honduras. Good smother by Rulli, not sure Argentina would have the bottle to turn a loss into a win...2016-8-10 16:20:07
The sudden chance clearly rattled the Albiceleste, as the pace of the game dropped as the half wore on. Chances were rare in between water breaks, with Marcelo Pereira seeing his shot blocked and Vega missing an open chance just before the second break.
Davies couldn't believe it:
Jake Davies @jakedavi5
Football: Should be 1-0 Argentina, not even sure what the No.16 is doing in that position...tried to pull off the spectacular. #Olympics2016-8-10 16:28:06
Both teams pushed for an opener toward the end of the half, with chances coming rapidly after the second water break. Acosta fired over before Correa tested the reflexes of Lopez, and Lozano just couldn't find the target with a header before Calleri blasted a volley over the bar.
Lopez again denied Correa just before half-time, keeping his team on level terms, and Calleri blasted over after a smart run through the Honduras. Correa ran into a yellow card during added time, meaning a suspension should Argentina advance, before Honduras earned a penalty, as Rulli pulled down Alberth Elis inside the box.
Captain Acosta prepared to give Honduras the lead, but Rulli more than made up for his mistake, guessing the right way and punching the ball out of play to end the half. Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe noted consistency has been an issue for the Real Sociedad man this tournament:
Sam Tighe @stighefootball
Geronimo Rulli concedes a penalty after mistiming a 1v1 lunge, but saves it. He's been so up and down at #Rio2016!2016-8-10 16:50:49
Argentina pressed high up the pitch to start the second half, and Cristiano Pavon went close with a shot from long range, just missing the target.
Romell Quioto put Rulli to work with a stinging drive, before Argentina got their chance to take the lead from the penalty spot as well. Pereira dragged down Pavon in the box and was lucky not to see the red card, and Correa produced a horrendous effort, sending his shot well wide of the goal.
Edwards couldn't believe it:
Daniel Edwards @DanEdwardsGoal
Correa now misses a penalty. Argentina don't want to win this, it seems2016-8-10 17:16:02
Calleri had the ball in the net shortly after, only to see it called back for an obvious foul before he attempted his header, and Correa fired into the side netting after a long run, as the pressure mounted on Honduras' defence.
That opened up space for the counter, however, and twice in as many minutes, the underdogs couldn't punish the Argentinian defence, as the final ball lacked quality.
Quioto tested Rulli with a shot from distance, and Vega made a crucial interception to stop a cross falling to the forward, who was ready to give his team the lead.
Giovanni Simeone was introduced with 20 minutes to play, but just two minutes later, Honduras earned another penalty, as Elis went on a surging run inside the box and Gianetti had no choice but to take him down.
The third time proved to be the charm, as Lozano fired home toward the left top corner. The goal meant Argentina needed to score twice in the final 15 minutes to avoid an early exit.
ESPN FC's Tom Marshall thought the exit seemed likely:
Tom Marshall @mexicoworldcup
Lozano from the penalty spot! Goooool #Hon. #arg look to be heading out of #rio2016.2016-8-10 17:34:55
Rulli and Acosta were involved in a shoving match just as the final water break came to an end, before Argentina resumed their attack. Calleri nearly equalised after a great run and a one-two pass with Simeone, but Marcelo Pereira just got a foot in front of the ball.
Elis nearly put the game to bed, forcing Rulli into yet another save, and Lozano also went close with a hard drive that found the side netting. Argentina kept giving the ball away, and Elis found the post with a shot.
Argentina had six minutes of added time to work with, and Martinez restored some hope by scoring from a free-kick with three minutes left to play. A late assault didn't lead to any more goals, as Honduras survived to advance to the next round.
Honduras will have to wait for the results of Wednesday's matches to learn who they'll play in the knockout stages, with Mexico and South Korea battling for the top spot in Group C and Germany right behind the duo.