Messi comes off bench as Argentina beat Paraguay qualifier

ESPN News ServicesOct 12, 2023, 08:56 PM ET4 Minute Read

Lionel Messi and Argentina train ahead of Paraguay test

Argentina train ahead of their World Cup qualifier against Paraguay with Lionel Messi taking part in the session.

Lionel Messi made a strong impact in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Paraguay in World Cup qualifying in Buenos Aires on Thursday night.

Argentinian coach Lionel Scaloni chose to start without Messi, who is recovering from a leg injury, and instead fielded Porto winger Nico Gonzalez, Man City’s Julián Álvarez, and Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martínez at the top of the formation.

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Despite Messi’s absence from the starting lineup, Nicolas Otamendi quickly opened the scoring for Argentina with a fantastic volley, giving them the lead at half-time. After the break, Messi warmed up to the delight of the home crowd at Monumental.

Messi showcased his skills during the 40-plus minutes he played, dictating play and creating numerous chances for his teammates. Although he hit the post with a free kick in second-half stoppage time, Argentina couldn’t extend their lead after his introduction.

“Having Messi in the starting lineup is always easier,” said Liverpool midfielder Alexis Mac Allister. “It was great to see him back on the field with us. We played well but we feel we could have scored more goals, especially in the first half. Anyway, we’re happy with the result and our performance.”

This victory continues Argentina’s impressive streak, with only one loss in their last 50 matches. They have outscored opponents 108-25 and achieved a record of 36-13-1 since their defeat to Brazil in the 2019 Copa America semifinals.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi takes the captain’s armband from Nicolas Otamendi after coming off the bench against Paraguay.Getty Images

The defending World Cup champions now have nine points from three matches and are looking to maintain their winning streak in an away match against Peru on Oct. 17.

Scaloni’s Argentina had a perfect record of 2-0 in CONMEBOL qualifying prior to this match, defeating Ecuador 1-0 and Bolivia 3-0 in September. However, Messi did not play against Bolivia due to the leg injury he sustained in their first match.

This injury also caused Messi to miss a significant number of games for his club team, Inter Miami CF, resulting in their failure to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs after a 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati on Saturday.

Leading up to the qualifier, there was uncertainty surrounding Messi’s participation, with Scaloni stating that the decision to play would be entirely up to the player.

Since joining Miami in July, Messi has been exceptional, scoring 11 goals in 13 matches. Miami achieved an 8-1-4 record with him on the field, but only 1-3-2 in the six matches he missed due to injury.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.


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