Thu, Oct 18, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Milito and Messi score as Argentina beat Venezuela

AIMING FOR AFRICA Venezuela created several chances but failed to finish, while New Zealand won a strained Oceania qualifier in Lautoka, Fiji

AP , MARACAIBO, VENEZUELAAP, LAUTOKA, FIJI

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring during a World Cup 2010 qualifying soccer match against Venezuela in Maracaibo, Venezuela, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AP

Gabriel Milito and Lionel Messi scored first-half goals and Argentina beat Venezuela 2-0 on Tuesday to win their second match in four days, giving it the early lead in South American World Cup qualifying.

Milito scored in the 16th minute with a header off a free kick from Juan Ramon Riquelme of Spain's Villarreal that was far beyond the reach of Venezuelan goalkeeper Renny Vega.

Venezuela, who were coming off Saturday's 1-0 victory over Ecuador, repeatedly pushed past Argentina's defense during the first half but failed to finish their chances.

Messi added his goal in the 43rd minute, splitting two defenders and placing a left-footed blast into the upper right corner. Messi had a chance for a second goal in the 61st, but the score was voided because of offside.

Venezuela's best opportunity came in the 49th when Giancarlo Maldonado broke in alone against Argentine goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri. Maldonado chipped the ball off to the right to the dismay of tens of thousands of fans at Jose Encarnacion Romero in the western city of Maracaibo.

"Venezuela faced off with a big rival, but we showed them that we can compete," Venezuela manager Richard Paez said.

Both teams play their next qualifiers in mid-November. Argentina will be at home against Bolivia while Venezuela will travel to face Colombia.

New Zealand scored a goal in each half to beat Fiji 2-0 in an Oceania World Cup qualifying soccer match at Churchill Park yesterday.

Ivan Vicelich beat Fiji's offside trap to head home New Zealand's first goal in the 32nd minute and striker Shane Smeltz drove a shot past goalkeeper Simione Taimanisau for the Kiwis' second goal after 86 minutes.

New Zealand had to overcome an intimidating atmosphere, produced by a crowd of many thousands, to win the match which is part of the Oceania qualifying tournament for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Relations between New Zealand and Fiji became strained when the New Zealand government refused Taimanisau a visa to play in the scheduled opening match of the tournament in Auckland last Saturday.

Taimanisau was barred from entering New Zealand under sanctions imposed after Fiji's military coup last December, which affect members of the Fiji military and their relatives. The father of Taimanisau's fiance is a military policeman.

Soccer's world governing body, FIFA, reacted by calling off the match, saying the interference of the New Zealand government was unacceptable. The match is still likely to go ahead at a neutral venue but an alternative date and site has yet to be selected.

Yesterday's match was marked by several vigorous physical clashes and the mood of the crowd was hostile to the New Zealand team.

Fiji took advantage of the situation to dominate the early stages of the match, as the New Zealanders struggled to settle, but Kiwi midfielder Tim Brown helped his team establish control.

Brown, the New Zealand captain, was able to provide dangerous passes to Smeltz and Celtic striker Chris Killen.

Fiji produced several chances through the middle of the first half before Vicelich's header, against the run of play, gave New Zealand the lead.

The home side continued to press New Zealand through the second half but the Kiwi defense closed down several dangerous raids and Smeltz's late strike sealed the match.

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