Messi comes off bench as Argentina wins World Cup qualifier


Lionel Messi came off the bench early in the second half of Argentina’s 1-0 World Cup qualifying triumph over Paraguay in Buenos Aires on Thursday night.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni kept Messi out of his starting XI for the country’s third CONMEBOL qualifier so far, instead selecting Porto winger Nico Gonzalez, Man City’s Julián Alvarez, and Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez.

Nicolas Otamendi scored early in the game with a wonderful volley to give Argentina a half-time advantage, and Messi began to warm up immediately after the interval, much to the joy of the home crowd at Monumental.

During his 40-plus minutes on the field, Messi looked active, directing traffic and helping Argentina pin Paraguay back while creating multiple chances for his teammates. Messi’s free kick hit the post in second-half stoppage time, but the hosts were unable to expand their lead after he entered the game.

Argentina has only one loss in their last 50 games, outscoring opponents 108-25 and going 36-13-1 since falling to Brazil in the 2019 Copa America semifinals.

The defending World Cup champions have nine points from three matches and will try to extend their winning streak against Peru on October 17.

Argentina entered the match with a 2-0 record in CONMEBOL qualifying, having beaten Ecuador 1-0 and Bolivia 3-0 in September, however Messi did not play against Bolivia after suffering a leg injury in their first encounter.

Messi’s injury prompted him to miss many games for Inter Miami CF, who missed the MLS Cup playoffs after a 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati on Saturday.

The Argentine superstar’s presence in Thursday’s qualifier had been questioned in the run-up to the game, with Scaloni insisting on Wednesday that the choice to play Messi would be fully up to the player.

In August, Messi led Miami to the club’s first trophy with a victory in the inaugural Leagues Cup competition between MLS and Liga MX sides, but his team fell short in the final of the US Open Cup – a game Messi missed due to injury – and also fell short of reaching the MLS postseason down the stretch.

Since joining Miami in July, the World Cup winner has been nothing short of incredible, scoring 11 goals in 13 games. When he played, Miami went 8-1-4, but only 1-3-2 in the six matches he missed due to injury.

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