ARGENTINA hauled themselves over the line, beating Qatar 2-0, avoiding Copa America humiliation and making it through to the quarter finals.
Lionel Messi can breathe a sigh of relief. The Barcelona star is under pressure every time he puts on the blue and white shirt of his national team.
This time, though, he has brought it upon himself. He could have been forgiven for putting his feet up this summer.
Argentina have a caretaker coach, the former West Ham right back Lionel Scaloni.
There is another Copa next year, split between Argentina and Colombia, when Messi will have a chance to shine in front of a home crowd and football news sites will cover this story.
So why bother with this tournament? The only possible answer is that Messi is desperate to win something at senior level with Argentina.
Opportunities are running out. There is this year, next year’s Copa and the 2022 World Cup. So Lionel Messi has grasped the chance.
There are times when he must have wished he had gone on holiday instead.
Argentina’s defensive problems persist – it was noticeable in the goal conceded against Paraguay that Newcastle’s Miguel Almiron was faster running with the ball than the Argentina defenders were running without it.
The inexperienced Scaloni is feeling his way. The press and public pile on the pressure. And there is another adversity.
During the second half of Sunday’s game against Qatar, substitute Marcos Acuna wriggled his way to the bye-line and rolled the ball back. It looked to be set up for Messi – who skied his shot well over the bar.
The slow motion replay gave the game away. A fraction of an instant before the ball reached Messi, it took a bobble on the Porto Alegre pitch.
This has been an unfortunate theme in some of the venues for the Copa America.
Argentina began their campaign in Salvador, losing 2-0 to Colombia. It was not only the losers who complained about the standard of the playing surface.
The Colombians also registered their displeasure. Speaking after the Qatar game, Messi commented that “all the pitches are bad.”
There may not be much relief on Friday, when Argentina face Venezuela in the quarter final in Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracana stadium.