Monday, October 26, 2020
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SPORTS | 09-10-2020 01:16

Messi fires Argentina to World Cup qualifying win over Ecuador

Argentina struggle to break down an organised and physical Ecuador side, but emerge with a 1-0 win thanks to Lionel Messi's 12th minute penalty.

Lionel Messi put his Barcelona troubles behind him to fire the Albiceleste to an opening 1-0 victory over Ecuador in World Cup qualifying on Thursday night.

The Rosario-born 33-year-old  has been in open conflict with his club but it had no detrimental effect on his form as his 13th minute penalty was the difference in a tight encounter.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner unsuccessfully tried to force his way out of the Catalan giants in the close season but he seemed much happier in the light blue and white jersey of his country.

Argentina needed him to be on top form in a bid to avoid slipping up at home to Ecuador for the second successive time in an opening World Cup qualifier having lost 2-0 to the same opponents four years ago.

In the surreal atmosphere of an empty Bombonera – the iconic stadium in Buenos Aires that is usually bouncing from the passion of fervent fans was left barren by coronavirus restrictions – Argentina never looked in danger of another shock defeat.

The hosts predictably dominated possession but struggled to break down an organised and physical Ecuador outfit that proved a different proposition to the one dispatched 6-1 in a friendly a year ago.

The breakthrough came after a reckless challenge by Pervis Estupinan sent Lucas Ocampo sprawling in the box, with Messi stepping up to lash home his 71st international goal.

Ocampos was presented with a glorious chance to double the lead early in the second half but goalkeeper Alexander Domínguez dived full length to keep out his low shot from eight yards.

Rodrigo De Paul fired narrowly wide for the hosts with the last kick of the match.

In Montevideo, Luis Suárez scored a record extending 60th international goal for Uruguay before substitute Maxi Gómez bagged an injury time winner against Chile.

Atletico Madrid forward Suárez opened the scoring from the penalty spot on 39 minutes after Sebastian Vegas was harshly penalised for handball.

Inter Milan's Alexis Sánchez equalised with a low shot on 54 minutes but Gómez had the last word with a stunning half-volley from 20 yards to complete the 2-1 win.

It was honours even between Paraguay and Peru in Asuncion as Ángel Romero for the hosts and Andre Carrillo both scored a brace.

– AFP

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