Sat, Jul 07, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Argentina take unbeaten record into quarter-finals



An inspired piece of play by substitute Lionel Messi saw Argentina overcome Paraguay 1-0 on Thursday to finish atop Group C and charge into the Copa America quarter-finals as the only team with a perfect record.

In Thursday's other game, Colombia topped the winless US 1-0 earlier to salvage some pride after both teams went into the final Group C match already eliminated.

No games were scheduled for yesterday as the final eight prepare for the quarter-final matchups beginning today.

With both teams already qualified, Argentine coach Alfio Basile decided to rest several starters. But after a dull first half he yielded to the loud appeals for "Messi, Messi" by the soldout crowd of 37,000 and sent the Barcelona striker on in the 66th minute, replacing Esteban Cambiasso.

The 21-year-old phenomenon did not disappoint, deceiving a Paraguayan defender before sending a centering pass that found Javier Mascherano, who buried a shot to the right of goalkeeper Aldo Bobadilla to drive home Argentina's winning goal in the 78th minute.

Prior to Mascherano's goal, Carlos Tevez and Rodrigo Palacio also came close to scoring with shots that ricocheted off the woodwork.

With the win, Argentina finish with nine points and stays in Barquisimeto to receive Peru tomorrow, with injured striker Hernan Crespo the only absentee.

Paraguay, with six points, must travel 1,000km to Maturin to face Mexico, which as a guest to the tournament have been in good form here, including beating five-time World Cup champion Brazil.

Argentina brought its biggest European-based stars to these South American championships in Venezuela, aiming to claim a record 15th Copa title and break the tie with Uruguay for the most championship crowns.

In a rematch of their group matches, host Venezuela play Uruguay in San Cristobal and Brazil take on Chile in Puerto La Cruz in the other two quarter-final matches today.

Venezuela and Uruguay had a scoreless draw in their group game, while Brazil beat Chile.

Earlier, Jaime Castrillon scored with a header in the 14th minute as a mostly second-string Colombia prevailed over the US to gain some measure of pride before returning home.

Colombia entered this 12-nation tournament with genuine ambitions for the title. But after letting in nine goals in two matches against Argentina and Paraguay, coach Jorge Luis Pinto chose to go with a less experienced squad against the US.

The win allows him to return to Bogota with his head a little higher, but his future as coach of the "cafeteros" may be in doubt according to reports in the Colombian media.

Coming off their Gold Cup championship win over Mexico, US coach Bob Bradley brought an inexperienced squad to Venezuela, looking to test formations ahead of the World Cup qualifiers in spring.

That decision drew criticism from event organizers after the US team scored just two goals at the tournament -- one a penalty.

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