Copa America: No rest for Messi in record-breaking Argentina appearance

Argentina's Lionel Messi (left) and Paraguay's Junior Alonso vie for the ball during their Copa America match in Brasilia on on Monday. (AFP)
Argentina's Lionel Messi (left) and Paraguay's Junior Alonso vie for the ball during their Copa America match in Brasilia on on Monday. (AFP)

Brasilia - Messi got his 147th cap against Paraguay, tying the record held by Javier Mascherano



By Reuters

Published: Tue 22 Jun 2021, 11:41 AM

Last updated: Tue 22 Jun 2021, 11:56 AM

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni considered resting Lionel Messi for Monday’s Copa America clash against Paraguay but in the end good sense prevailed as the Barcelona striker was once again a key man in their 1-0 win.

Argentina logged their second win in three group matches played, beating Paraguay 1-0, with Alejandro “Papu” Gomez scoring the sole goal of a lacklustre match in Brasilia in the ninth minute.

“The truth is that Messi has played in all our games and so it is very difficult not to rely on him,” Scaloni said after a hard-fought game in which Argentina scored early and then ceded more and more ground to a Paraguay side that could not turn their possession into goals.

“What worries me is the physical condition of the players,” the coach added. “The conditions were not great to play in.”

Messi has been one of Argentina’s most active players in their three Copa games so far.

He has played every minute and as usual never stopped looking for the ball. His 66 touches against Chile in their opener was a team high, as was his 78 against Uruguay along with Rodrigo De Paul.

Against Paraguay only defender Nahuel Molina touched the ball more.

The victory over Paraguay in Brasilia took Argentina through to the quarterfinals with a game to spare and Scaloni admitted the time might be right to rest his star man.

“It’s possible that we will rotate in the next game,” he said of next Monday’s final group game against Bolivia. “Having qualified gives us some peace of mind. Now we can recharge our batteries and our strength.”

RECORD CAP

Messi got his 147th cap against Paraguay, tying the record held by Javier Mascherano.

The recognition comes at the end of an eventful season for a man who will turn 34 on Thursday.

He began the season opting to stay at Barcelona after saying he wanted to leave.

Exactly where he will be next season is not certain but one thing that is not in doubt is his status at the national side.

Messi has spoken openly about wanting to win a title with Argentina and add an international honour to the myriad baubles he picked up with his club.

Argentina have not won a major title since lifting the Copa America in 1993 and it is the one blank page on his otherwise unblemished CV.

They may fear a resurgent Brazil but they are enjoying a good spell — Monday’s game was their 16th without defeat — and belief the drought may finally break is quietly building.

“We can see that the team is growing and taking shape,” said defender German Pezzella. “With the squad and the players we have we can be there or thereabouts.”

Chile on Monday also booked their place in the quarterfinals.

In the other match on Monday, Chile drew 1-1 with Uruguay to end the day with five log points.

With four matches left to play in Group A, Paraguay have three points, Uruguay one, and Bolivia zero, meaning they all still stand a theoretical chance to go to the quarterfinals.

Brazil have already qualified

Despite opposition from politicians and citizens, Brazil agreed at the 11th hour to host the world’s oldest international tournament after South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL took it from co-hosts Argentina, battling a pandemic surge, and Colombia where dozens have died in anti-government protests.

The contest had already been delayed by a year due to the pandemic and many players and coaches spoke out against it going ahead before the tournament began.

The build-up to Monday’s Chile-Uruguay game had been overshadowed by controversy in the Chile camp after revelations the team had breached Covid-19 protocols by bringing a local hairdresser into the team hotel.

CONMEBOL said it would fine those involved $30,000.

However there was no sign of the controversy affecting their play, with Vargas firing Chile ahead on 26 minutes from a tight angle after latching onto a clever pass from English-born Ben Brereton.

Uruguay grabbed a share of the points in the second-half when Suarez bundled in the ball from close range during a tangle with former Barcelona team-mate Arturo Vidal at the far post following a corner.

Manchester United striker Edinson Cavani almost snatched victory for Uruguay in the 85th minute, but his glancing header flashed just wide of the post.

Vargas’s first-half strike saw him draw level with Peru’s Paolo Guerrero on 14 goals in the Copa America’s all-time goalscoring rankings, three behind the record of 17 held by Brazil’s Zizinho and Argentina’s Norberto Mendez.


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