Lionel Messi came off the bench early in the second half of Argentina’s 1-0 win over Paraguay in a World Cup qualifier in Buenos Aires on Thursday night.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni left Messi, who is recovering from a foot injury, out of his starting XI for his third CONMEBOL qualifier so far, with Porto winger Nico Gonzalez, Man City’s Julian Alvarez and Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez at the top of his form. .
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Nicolas Otamendi opened the scoring with a superb volley early in the game to give a dominant Argentina a half-time lead and Messi started hot soon after the break to the delight of the home crowd at the Monumental.
Messi looked lively during his 40-plus minutes on the field, directing traffic and creating numerous chances for his teammates to help Argentina pin Paraguay. Messi hit the post with a free kick in second-half stoppage time, but the hosts could not extend their lead after coming into the game.
“Of course it’s always easier to have [Messi in the starting lineup]”, said Liverpool midfielder Alexis McAllister “It was good to see him come back after a while and stay with us for a few minutes. We’re happy for him.
“We played well but we think we could have scored more tonight, especially in the first half. Anyway, happy with the result and the way we played.”
The result continues an impressive streak for Argentina, who have lost just one of their last 50 games, outscoring opponents 108-25 and going 36-13-1 since losing to Brazil in the 2019 Copa America semifinals.
The defending World Cup champions have nine points from three matches and will be looking to maintain their winning streak with an away match against Peru in October. 17.
“We will speak in the coming days to determine his status [ahead of Tuesday’s game vs. Peru]”He has two more training sessions to continue adding minutes on the pitch,” Scaloni said of Messi. “At this point, I’m not ruling out any options. He could play from the start, play as a substitute or not play.
“But today I think it was a risk for him to have a lot of playing time. We talked about it and we agreed on it and I think it was prudent.”
Scaloni’s Argentina were 2-0 in CONMEBOL qualifying matches, beating Ecuador 1-0 and Bolivia 3-0 in September, but Messi missed Bolivia after picking up a leg injury in their first match.
The injury forced Messi to miss some games for club side Inter Miami CF as the team missed out on the MLS Cup playoffs after a 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati on Saturday.
The Argentine superstar’s participation in Thursday’s qualifiers was in doubt in the run-up to the game, with Scaloni saying on Wednesday that whether Messi plays or not will be entirely up to the player.
Messi led Miami to the club’s first trophy in August by winning the inaugural League Cup competition between the MLS and Liga MX teams, but his side came up short in the US Open Cup final — a game Messi missed due to injury. — and fell short of even reaching the MLS postseason down the stretch.
Unsurprisingly, the World Cup winner has scored 11 goals in 13 appearances for the club since joining Miami in July. He went 8-1-4 when he played in Miami, but went just 1-3-2 in six games due to injuries.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.