Argentina Sneak Past Qatar to survive Copa America group stage, Colombia stay perfect


Argentina will start from afresh in the Copa America after averting disaster with Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Qatar that sent them into the knock-out stages, star Lionel Messi said.

Goals from the Barcelona icon’s forward partners Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero were enough to propel Argentina from bottom of Group B to second and into a quarter-final meeting with Venezuela on Friday at Rio’s Maracana stadium.

“The important thing was to win to keep going in the Copa, to get through the group stage,” said Messi, who will turn 32 on Monday.

“This will be an important boost for what’s to come ... another Copa begins now.

“This victory must give us strength and make us grow as a team.”

Argentina’s performance was far from pitch-perfect, but they were good enough to beat a limited Qatar side, who gifted them the opening goal after four minutes when Bassam Hicham played a suicidal ball across his own box straight to Martinez.

Messi admitted, though, that there were nerves in the Argentina camp.
“It’s tough playing this kind of game due to the necessity, the obligation (to win), the fear of missing out.

“But beyond that we played well and went through, which is what matters.”
Aguero, who was recalled after he was dropped for the 1-1 draw with Paraguay, had a mixed game alongside Messi and Martinez.

He worked hard to create chances for himself but lacked sharpness and precision in his finishing, until his brilliant goal where he burst past two defenders before shooting high into the far corner.

“Luckily I was picked to start and luckily at times the three of us worked well together and we won,” he said.
Argentina will now play a side who beat them 3-1 in a friendly in Madrid in March.

“They’re quite tough opponents who counter-attack really well and we’ll try to be wise to that,” said Aguero.
Coach Lionel Scaloni gave a sober assessment of Argentina’s form after a third straight match in which they struggled for long periods and failed to entirely convince.

“We’re satisfied because we’re in the next round ... but we have to improve in every aspect,” he said.

“Today at times the team played well and rid itself of fear.”

And Scaloni hit out at claims back home that the squad was divided.

“As long as we’re playing in the Copa, everyone’s pulling for the same side. There must be total unanimity,” he said.

In the other match of the day, Colombia beat Paraguay 1-0 with a second-string team to stay perfect at the Copa America with three wins and without conceding any goals.

The win also helped Argentina to advance from Group B in second place.

The only goal of the match at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador was scored in the 31st minute by midfielder Gustavo Cuellar.

Colombia will have to wait for Group C to finish on Monday to know who it will play in the quarterfinals. 

Colombia, a team that has won the Copa America only once in 2001, next faces the second-place team from Group C. Defending champion Chile leads that group with six points and plays Uruguay with four points. Paraguay finished with two points and must hope for a draw between Japan and Ecuador in Group C to advance as one of the two best third-place finishers.

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