It was an epic Group B battle in the Copa America, but Colombia and Argentina have progressed to the knockout rounds after wins against Paraguay and Qatar.
The Cafeteros sent out a weakened XI having already confirmed their progression to the quarter-finals, but Carlos Queiroz’s men still managed to find a way past Paraguay, winning 1-0 in Salvador courtesy of Gustavo Cuellar’s first international goal.
At the Arena do Gremio, Argentina played out a 2-0 win against Qatar with goals either side of the intervak from Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero, ensuring a second-place finish for La Albiceleste.
It was a tense evening of action in Brazil, but who were the winners and losers from this final matchday in Group B?
Winner: Lautaro Martinez
Heading into this match the pressure on the shoulders of Lionel Messi and co was seismic. The diminutive genius’ namesake, Lionel Scaloni, needed an early goal to relax the stress on his side, and Martinez duly delivered on cue.
Lautaro Martínez has scored five goals for the Argentina National Team:
⚽ vs. Iraq
⚽ vs. Venezuela
⚽⚽ vs. Nicaragua
⚽ vs. Qatar
This his first in Copa América. pic.twitter.com/Zjh7HPq0lJ
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 23, 2019
Slotting comfortably past Saad Al Sheeb in the opening minutes, the Nerazzurri marksman continued his fine goalscoring record at international level, with that finish his fifth of the Scaloni era, more than any other player since the ex-West Ham defender took to the dugout.
The 21-year-old is yet to reach double digits for La Albiceleste but is becoming one of their more prominent players, keeping the likes of Paulo Dybala out of the first team. But it wasn’t just his goal that impressed, as he was a constant threat throughout the match with his hold-up play and slippery movement.
Loser: Miguel Almiron
Prior to the match, only maximum reward at the Fonte Nova Arena would have been enough to guarantee progression to the knockout rounds for Paraguay, so Los Guaranies needed their best players to step up and get the job done against a weakened Colombia side.
With their opponents already through to the next stage of the Copa America, Queiroz opted to shuffle the pack and left a number of star names out of his starting XI, including James Rodriguez, Davinson Sanchez and David Ospina.
Eduardo Berizzo’s eyes would have lit up an hour or so before kick-off, but his side largely failed to stamp their authority on the match, particularly Almiron, the nation’s talismanic figure.
In the first half his attacking partnership with stalwart Oscar Cardozo failed to yield a single successful pass, and the second half did little to improve their understanding much, with the Newcastle man failing to really inspire his nation.
Winner: Carlos Queiroz
When Colombia parted company from the much-beloved Argentine tactician, Jose Pekerman, after six years of service in September, it would have taken a monumental name to step into his shoes and endear himself to the Cafeteros fans as much as the veteran coach did. Well, Queiroz is doing a fine job of emulating his predecessor’s footsteps already.
With coaching roles at both Manchester United and Real Madrid in the past, Queiroz has an impeccable CV, as well as huge international pedigree, having taken to the dugout on six occasions for national sides. And he is doing a commendable job at the Colombia helm, taking La Tricolor to top spot in Group B, where they look real contenders to clinch the coveted cup.
Three wins from three has ensured a perfect start to this instalment of the Copa America for Sir Alex Ferguson’s former coach.
Loser: Bassam Al-Rawi
When you’re coming up against a frontline that features the likes of Messi and Aguero, every defensive decision needs to be inch-perfect, otherwise that insatiable Albiceleste attack is likely to capitalise on even the slightest modicum of a mistake.
Well, Bassam Al-Rawi clearly didn’t get the memo, as the young Qatari defender gifted Argentina a glorious opportunity in the opening exchanges, and of course, the South Americans took full advantage.
With only four minutes on the clock, the Baghdad-born Qatar international played a risky cross field pass across his own box; rule number one in how not to defend. And an even more significant aberration when you consider the attacking threat that was swarming around him. Inter Milan’s Martinez couldn’t believe his luck as the ball was played straight into his path, and he duly tucked away to break the deadlock and ease tensions right from the off.
Winner: Sergio Aguero
Despite dominating proceedings, Argentina found it hard to find openings in the Maroons defence, that is, until Aguero went on one of his powerful trademark runs before firing emphatically to confirm three points in the closing stages.
Sergio Agüero is the third player to score 40 goals for the Argentina National Team.
Achieving the feat on his 93rd cap. pic.twitter.com/WdujvsQYUs
— Coral (@Coral) June 23, 2019
As Felix Sanchez Bas’ side tried to play out from the back, they once again allowed Argentina to capitalise on their shortcomings; seizing possession in the middle of the park, the ball found its way to Aguero, who exerted a tremendous change of pace before brushing past the Qatari defenders and striking a low drive into the back of the net.
That goal has brought up 40 for his country, placing him in a unique triumvirate of Argentina players to achieve that feat, as he now sits in the goalscoring pantheon alongside Gabriel Batistuta (54), and a certain Messi.