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Messi hits 50th Argentina goal, Brazil salvage draw

Messi hits 50th Argentina goal, Brazil salvage draw

MONTEVIDEO: Lionel Messi scored his 50th international goal as Argentina notched their third straight victory in South America’s 2018 World Cup qualifying tournament, while Brazil snatched a dramatic late draw against Paraguay on Tuesday.

Messi swept in an emphatic spot-kick to help Argentina to a 2-0 win over Bolivia, lifting the two-time world champions to third in the overall standings with 11 points from six matches, two points behind joint leaders Ecuador and Uruguay.

Ecuador suffered their first loss in the group, going down 3-1 in Colombia, while Uruguay scored a 1-0 home win over Peru.

Colombia are fifth in the table with 10 points from five games while Chile are fourth after a 4-1 win at Venezuela.

Brazil rallied for a 2-2 draw at Paraguay with late goals from Ricardo Oliveira and Dani Alves as they sit sixth, level with Paraguay on nine points.

The top four teams in the 10-nation group qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals, while the fifth-placed side goes into an intercontinental playoff.

At the Estadio Mario Kempes in Cordoba, Gabriel Mercado scored in the 19th minute and Barcelona star Messi made it 2-0 in the 29th on a penalty to lead the Argentines to an easy victory.

Messi’s exploits make him only the second player in Argentine history to reach a half century of goals with the 28-year-old striker now closing in on legendary scorer Gabriel Batistuta’s record of 56 goals, set between 1991 and 2002.

“Beating Bolivia and Chile is what we wanted,” said Messi, referring to last week’s hard-fought win over the Chileans in Santiago. “We’ve come from a low position in the standings to a high one, but there is still a long way to go.”

Messi’s Barca team-mate Alves was the hero of Brazil’s draw with Paraguay in Asuncion.

Oliveira scored in the 79th minute and Alves showed a nice piece of close control inside the box before curling the ball into the corner two minutes into stoppage time to rescue the visitors after Paraguay had sat back in an attempt to defend their lead.

“That is the spirit of the team,” Alves told reporters. “As I told my team-mates, for us to get anything here we needed not just quality but also fight and attitude and we had that today.”

Dario Lezcano gave Paraguay a deserved 1-0 lead in the 40th, driving a 10 metre shot over the head of Brazil keeper Alisson.

Edgar Benitez made it 2-0 in the 49th on a perfectly slotted shot after Paraguay sliced up Brazil’s porous defence to get into scoring position.

Edinson Cavani scored in the 52nd to lift Uruguay to victory over stubborn Peru in Montevideo and lead Ecuador on goal difference after Colombia produced their best display since reaching the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup in Barranquilla.

AC Milan forward Carlos Bacca scored either side of a Sebastian Perez strike to help Jose Pekerman’s team take all three points.

Romulo Otero gave Venezuela a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute in Barinas but Copa America champions Chile dominated from that point on, with two goals from Arturo Vidal and two more from Mauricio Pinilla.

Published in Dawn, March 31th, 2016

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