Messi nets brace as Argentina thump Bolivia, Uruguay prevail over Paraguay - GulfToday

Messi nets brace as Argentina thump Bolivia, Uruguay prevail over Paraguay

Lionel Messi

Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal against Bolivia during their Copa America match on Monday. Associated Press

Lionel Messi celebrated his record 148th international cap with two goals as Argentina trounced Bolivia 4-1 to clinch top spot in Copa America Group A on Monday.

Messi — who had equalled Javier Mascherano’s Argentinian caps record of 147 last week — marked his 148th appearance in style, setting up the opening goal before bagging a brace of his own.

The victory at Cuiaba’s Arena Pantanal stadium sees Argentina advance to a quarter-final on Saturday against Ecuador, the fourth placed finishers from Group B.

Bolivia, who had already been eliminated after three defeats in their opening three games, were outclassed from the outset by a rampant Argentina.

The Argentines almost took the lead after three minutes, only for Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe to pull off a remarkable double save from Sergio Aguero and Angel Correa in quick succession.

But Argentina did not have to wait long for the breakthrough, when Messi’s delightful chipped pass released Papu Gomez who volleyed past Lampe to make it 1-0 after six minutes.

Argentina doubled their lead on 33 minutes when Gomez was brought down in the area by Bolivia’s Diego Bejarano.

Messi duly stepped up to convert the penalty to put Argentina firmly in control.

Bolivia got their first shot on goal shortly afterwards, Jeyson Chura’s ferocious long-range effort forcing Argentina goalkeeper Franco Armani into a diving save at full stretch. But Argentina reasserted their dominance and it was Messi who made it 3-0, latching on to a clever lofted pass from new Barcelona team-mate Aguero and lobbing a cheeky finish over the advancing Lampe.

Bolivia pulled a goal back in the 60th minute with a cleverly worked move, Chura’s deft back heel releasing Leonel Justiniano down the right flanke who crossed for Erwin Saavedra to score.

Argentina responded swiftly though, substitute Lautaro Martinez tapping in from close range in the 65th minute just two minutes after coming on for Aguero.

Messi contract saga goes to the wire, but club still optimistic: Meanwhile, Argentina’s Messi has yet to agree on a new contract with Barcelona, the club where he has spent his entire career, and his 21-year association with the Catalans could come to an end at midnight on Wednesday if no new deal is reached.

Barca’s all-time top scorer, who joined as a 13-year-old in September 2000, could stay beyond June 30 as a free agent, however, and officially not belong to the club until he puts pen to paper on a contract extension.

The club declined to comment on Messi’s contract situation when contacted by Reuters on Tuesday.

Failure to tie Messi to a deal before June 30 would be an embarrassment for Barca and president Joan Laporta while further highlighting the club’s precarious financial situation.

The club has a total debt of more than 1 billion euros, while Messi’s soon-to-expire contract, which he signed in 2017, is the most lucrative in world sport, according to a January report in newspaper El Mundo.

Laporta said this month that Messi, who tried to leave the club last year after falling out with previous chief Josep Maria Bartomeu, was keen to stay but also urged his captain to sign as soon as possible.

“I’d like Messi to tell us yes as soon as he can, that would help us in many ways,” he told newspaper La Vanguardia.

“We’re in constant communication, he is hopeful and I’m grateful to him for showing a willingness to stay.”

In Monday’s other Group A game, Uruguay clinched second place in the table after downing Paraguay 1-0 in Rio de Janeiro.

Edinson Cavani’s first half spot kick proved decisive for ‘La Celeste’, sending Uruguay into a quarter-final against Colombia on Saturday.

Uruguay would have had to face Brazil if it had lost to Paraguay, who already secured their place in the knockout phase.


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