Messi came on as a substitute early in the second half as Argentina beat Paraguay 1-0 in Buenos Aires on Thursday night in a World Cup qualifying match.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni left Messi out of the starting XI for his third CONMEBOL qualifying match so far as he recovers from a leg injury, starting Porto winger Nico Gonzalez, Julián Alvarez of Manchester City and Lautaro Martinez of Inter Milan.
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Nicolas Otamendi opened the scoring with a fine volley to give dominant Argentina a half-time lead, with Messi warming up shortly after the break. The home fans at the stadium were delighted.
Messi looked active for more than 40 minutes on the pitch, directing traffic and helping Argentina hold Paraguay down while creating numerous chances for his teammates. Messi’s free kick hit the post in second-half stoppage time, but the home team failed to extend their lead after he came on.
“I’m happy to be playing again… It’s always difficult to come off the bench and even more so in such an intense game,” Messi said. “The important thing is that we won and we played well, especially in the first half.
“I came here after playing a few minutes for my club (Inter Miami FC). We talked and planned to see how I feel during the week. The idea is to do what comes next before the next game. Add more training sessions on a few days. ”
In the 85th minute, after a discussion with Messi, Paraguay forward Antonio Sanabria appeared to spit at Messi when the Argentine star turned his back.
“To be honest, I didn’t see it. My teammates told me in the dressing room that he spat at me,” Messi said of the incident. “I don’t know who this boy is and I don’t want to make a big fuss about it.”
The reigning World Cup champions have nine points from three games and will hope to keep their winning streak alive when they face Peru on October 17.
“We will discuss in the next few days to determine his condition,” Scaloni said of Messi. “He has two training sessions left to continue to increase his playing time. At this point, I’m not ruling out any options. He can play from the start, as a substitute, or not play at all.
“But today I thought it was a risk for him to get a lot of playing time. We discussed that, we agreed with that, and I thought it was prudent.”
The victory over Paraguay extended Argentina’s impressive winning streak, which has seen them lose just once in their last 50 games since losing to Brazil in the 2019 Copa America semi-finals, 108-108. Defeat opponents by 25 margins, with a record of 36-13-1.
“Obviously it’s always easier to have Messi (who starts),” Liverpool midfielder Alexis McAllister said. “It was great to see him come back after a while and be with us for a few minutes. We are happy for him.
“We played well but we felt we could have scored more tonight, especially in the first half. Anyway, happy with the result and our performance.”
The Argentina team led by Scaloni defeated Ecuador 2-0 and Bolivia 3-0 in the South American qualifiers, but Messi suffered a leg injury in the first game and did not participate in the match. Bolivia match.
The injury forced Messi to miss most of Inter Miami’s games, and the team missed the MLS Cup playoffs after losing 1-0 to FC Cincinnati on Saturday.
The Argentinian superstar’s availability for Thursday’s qualifying match had been in doubt in the lead-up to the match, with Scaloni saying on Wednesday that the decision to play Messi would be entirely up to the player.
In August, Messi won the inaugural League Cup match between MLS and Liga MX teams, leading Miami to the club’s first trophy, but his side failed to win the U.S. Open Cup Lost in the final – Messi missed the match due to injury – and failed to make the MLS playoffs in the closing stages.
The World Cup winner has been in fine form since joining Miami in July, scoring 11 goals in 13 games for the team. Miami had a record of 8 wins, 1 draw and 4 losses when he was on the court, but in the six games he missed due to injury, Miami only had a record of 1 win, 3 draws and 2 losses.
This report used information from The Associated Press.