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Finding the golden touch

Argentina dominates Venezuela as Lionel Messi wows his Kolkata devotees on Friday. Dhiman Sarkar reports. Messi in minutes

sports Updated: Sep 03, 2011 02:39 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
lionel messi,argentina vs venezuela,salt lake stadium

If nothing else, this match could be the icebreaker Alejandro Sabella would need to make his journey as Argentina coach a touch smoother. And it was fitting that Lionel Messi had an important role to play there.

Sabella's first captain, and the one entrusted with the armband for as long as they go through the World Cup qualifiers and beyond, played a leading role in helping the coach start with a win. Just as important would be the fact that Angel di Maria and Messi played like they have always been together, each reading the other's move smiling and clicking hands all the while.

Good start
Such mateship would please Sabella and every Argentine who watched their team beat Venezuela 1-0 here on Friday night. For, while Messi is an asset at Barcelona, Di Maria is an important cog at Real Madrid. And in Spain at least, it looks unlikely that the twain shall ever meet. Messi knows more than anyone else how much such acrimony would have to be kept on hold if Argentina have to go farther in the World Cup since they have in 1990.

Both captain and coach should also be worried about Argentina’s poor goals-for-chances ratio. Di Maria and Messi both could have scored more than once if Rafael Romo hadn't had such a great night. In the way he left-charged to deny Messi in the 20th minute encapsulated his brave show.

Messi fires up
Soon after, Lucho Gonsalves's first half free-kick took a lucky deflection. In the 65th minute, Messi pulled the trigger after a neat three-pass move involving Javier Mascheranho — who along with Venezuela central defender Fernando Amorobieta were the only players booked — Gonzales and himself.

That too was saved, though the effort fetched the corner-kick that led to the match's only goal. Messi took it and at the near post Nicolas Otamendi connected with a header that bounced sharply in front of Romero, giving him no chance.

Messi fired a superb left-footer in the 79th minute, keeping his drive low, off a Di Maria corner-kick. That was another statement of class among the many he produced in 90 minutes at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan, but, like in so many of Argentina's recent games, it didn't lead to a goal.

Glitches on the way
Another worry for Argentina could be how the left side of their defence was repeatedly opened by Venezuela who looked venomous on the break. Wide right midfielder Frank Feltscher produced a strong run in the 33rd minute but his effort was too fast for Jose Salomon Rondon and too acute for it to go in.

Cesar Gonsales also got Argentina goalie Sergio Romero to pull off a good save in the 59th minute and it was a timely intervention by central defenders Martin Demichelis and Otamendi that kept the scoresheet barren at half-time. Just as it was in the 16th minute when Demichelis produced a timely intervention to deny Rondon.

Like it has usually been in the recent past, Argentina looked better midfield upwards when they had the ball. "We were only at 60 per cent," said Sabella.

First Published: Sep 02, 2011 21:29 IST