Leo Messi is back for Argentina! In fact, he never went away. After going back on his announcement post Copa America that he would no longer be turning out for his country, the Barça striker was absolutely outstanding in Mendoza on Thursday night.
It had to be Messi who scored the only goal of a 1-0 win against Uruguay, a result that sends the albiceleste to the top of the South American World Cup qualifying table. The home side fully deserved the lead after 43 minutes, when Messi’s strike was helped in by a rebound.
Argentina went on to dominate the second half, with Messi wielding his magic left, right and centre, but no further goals. "I’m grateful to the fans” he told local TV after the game. “I was not fooling anyone when I said I was giving up the national team. We were very upset about what had happened but I had a rethink afterwards. I spoke to Patón [new manager Edgardo Bauza] and the people also showed amazing support for me.”
They did indeed. The Estadio Malvinas Argentinas had nothing but applause for their national hero, with numerous banners proclaiming such messages as “we’d rather lose with you than have to lose you.”
Messi’s presence in the game had been in doubt due to injury, and he admitted afterwards that “I was feeling quite a lot of pain in my pubis. But I had to be here after all the fuss I’d caused.” Because of his fitness, he added that he was unsure whether he’d be able to play in Argentina’s second fixture this week, away to Venezuela.
His club team-mate Javier Mascherano, who also played the full 90 minutes and described Messi as his ‘best friend in football’, added that “it would be unfair on the people not to see him playing for his country.”
Obviously, it wasn’t such a happy night for another Barça star. Uruguay’s desperate response to the Argentine dominance was to seek Luis Suárez almost every time they got the ball, but to no avail and the defeat means they drop to second in the table.
“Lionel is the best player in the world, no doubt about that” commented Suárez after the final whistle. “We had to be careful because one of his chances was always likely to go in. He got lucky with the goal, and unfortunately this time I was on the receiving end.”
Argentina’s position atop the table also came thanks to Ecuador’s 3-0 loss at home to Brazil, a result that sees the canarinha rise to fifth. Brazil coped brilliantly with the Quito altitude but took 72 minutes to finally find the net thanks to a penalty converted by the third member of the Barça trident on World Cup duty in South America: Neymar Jr.
With the home side reduced to ten men, a late brace from Gabriel Jesus finished off the job.