The Liverpool man is considered by many to be amongst the best holding midfielders in the world. Today he did just a little more. A second-half Javier Mascherano strike was enough to put Argentina atop group C setting up a quarter-final date with Peru.
On the other hand, Paraguay, who managed to contain Argentina for more than an hour, have to deal with Mexico in the knock-out stage.
The first half can, at best, be classified as mundane with both sides unable to break the deadlock. Wait a minute. Did I just say both ? Correction. Paraguay weren’t even trying to score. They were happy sitting back: it was Argentina who needed that goal after all. Digging deep into its reserves, Argentina unleashed a new look team which lacked the co-ordination and free-flowing game that is so very much their trademark. One got the impression that the sting in front of goal was not there today.
One of the rare quality first half chances came in the 13th minute. Cambiasso, working his way down the left, crossed in for Palacio who set up Aimar for a header that went just wide. Tevez sent a powerful far range shot wide. Cambiasso also managed a couple of neat first touches in this half, though that didn’t prevent the spectators from booing on numerous occasions when they were actually spectating.
After a dull half, Argentina resumed proceedings with a renewed sense of purpose. A number of chances were created. Two shots hit the post: The first, a low shot from Tevez when given the slightest of rooms. The second, a powerful strike from Palacio that bounced off the top. Tevez curled another one just over. A goal seemed coming anytime. However, it took a double substitution in the form of Messi (to the crowd’s delight) and Mascherano who also paired up to put Argentina ahead.
Messi’s speed and creativity brought new life into the attack. In a brilliant move, he moved up the left flank and beat two defenders before making the decisive cross. Mascherano, suddenly finding the ball at his feet and a gang of defenders running at him, came up with a high precision strike to save the day for Argentina.
Paraguay’s defence, that had almost done its job perfectly, was finally opened up. All further attempts to equalize went in vain.