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BARRANQUILLA, Colombia – Lionel Messi said it was time to forget about the past.
Argentina, which drew with Bolivia last week, trailed by a goal on the road against Colombia in the second half, but thanks to a goalkeeper gaffe and a nifty score off a rebound, La Albiceleste secured a much-needed 2-1 victory.
The win, which was sparked by Messi’s precise passing and playmaking, allowed Argentina to keep pace with Uruguay atop CONMEBOL qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
“It was hard,” Messi said told reporters. “We did not deserve to go one goal behind to the opponents, as they were not better than us. We wanted to forget about the tie against Bolivia. That was very hard for us and I think we did. Sometimes you can play better, and other times you have to fight harder. This game was one of those days.”
The win also was huge for Argentine coach Alejandro Sabella, who made the tough choice to cut veteran defender Martín Demichelis after his huge blunder led Bolivia’s goal in a 1-1 tie. Sabella made the move under intense public pressure to expect more from the talented tide that hasn’t won a major competition since the 1993 Copa América.
“It hurts to leave him out,” Sabella told reporters. “[Demichelis] was pained deeply by what happened, more so than any other Argentine.”
Colombia got on the board first with a goal from Dorlan Pabón in the 45th minute, as the midfielder’s free kick deflected off Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano and spiraled into the back of the net.
But a 1-0 halftime deficit only sparked the visitors.
Argentina tied the game in the 61st minute, when Messi scored off a rebound when Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina failed to control Jose Sosa’s initial shot.
Twenty-three minutes later, Argentina took the lead for good when forward Sergio Agüero scored off a pass from Messi inside the penalty box.
“It was a great match, very difficult to play at a demanding venue, but we improved our performance in the second half and did it,” Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuaín told reporters. “Now, we have six months to try to find our best shape. The qualifiers are long and we made a good step today.”
Uruguay (2-1-0, 7 points) sits atop CONMEBOL qualifying, followed by Argentina (2-1-1, 7), Venezuela (2-1-1, 7), Ecuador (2-0-1, 6), Chile (2-0-2, 6), Colombia (1-1-1, 4), Paraguay (1-1-2, 4), Peru (1-0-2, 3) and Bolivia (0-3-1, 1). The top four teams qualify automatically while the fifth-place team will earn a bid to a two-team playoff against a squad from another confederation.
Brazil has automatically qualified for the World Cup since it’s hosting the event.
Chile scores big win over Paraguay
Pablo Contreras and Matías Campos weren’t ready to write off Chile’s World Cup dreams.
They each scored in a 2-0 win over Paraguay to propel La Roja to not only a much-needed victory on home soil but also a slot in the top-five of CONMEBOL qualifying.
The victory was especially huge for Chile, as the team was coming off a 4-0 thrashing by defending Copa América champion Uruguay last week.
La Roja also took a 4-1 against Argentina during qualification and has a goal-differential of minus-3, the second worst of any of the nine South American sides seeking an invitation to the 2014 World Cup.
“Losing to Uruguay was tough, but the love of fans at the airport cheered us up,” Chile defender José Rojas told reporters. “We must win for them.”
Also moving up the qualifying table this week was Venezuela, which escaped Bolivia with a 1-0 win. The lone goal came off a goal-mouth scramble when Oswaldo Vizcarrondo headed home a corner kick from Julio Álvarez Mosquera in the 25th minute. Combined with a 1-1 draw against Colombia last week, Venezuela has been able to keep pace with the CONMEBOL leader as it tries to qualify for its first World Cup.
“We must be patient,” Venezuela coach César Farías told reporters. “We can win by scoring either in the first or the 90th minute.”
Argentina’s Ginóbili enjoying time away from NBA
No NBA, no problem for Manu Ginóbili.
The Argentine guard and star of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs has spent most of the offseason and the past few months in his home country as he waits for the resolution to a labor dispute between the league’s owners and players.
Meantime, he has been practicing with local pro teams and spending time enjoying his team’s FIBA Américas title that earned La Albiceleste a berth in the 2012 London Games.
Recently, he was impressed as he attended a Liga Nacional game between his hometown team Bahía Blanca and Obras Sanitarias.
“I saw the league doing very well,” Ginóbili told reporters. “It’s improving year by year. There’s always a player from Europe that returns and that is good for the league.”
Several NBA players have opted to sign with international teams since the NBA’s labor dispute has no end in sight, but Ginóbili has opted to relax and stay in shape by practicing with Estudiantes de Bahía Blanca.
If the lockout results in a cancelled season, he will need a way to be game-ready for the 2012 Olympics. Argentina won gold at the 2004 Athens Games and bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games.
“I’m happy,” Ginóbili told reporters. “Training with Estudiantes is great for me and I think I help them. I’m taking advantage of the chance that I haven’t had for a long time, which is to see the league.”
Argentine women’s field hockey team headed to Olympics
The world champions still have a shot at an Olympic medal.
The Argentine women’s field hockey squad received an automatic bid to the 2012 Olympics in London after South Africa forfeited an automatic qualification spot.
Argentina claimed bronze at the 2008 and 2004 games and won silver in 2000 in Sydney.
“The International Hockey Federation has made official Las Leonas’ qualification to the London 2012 Olympic Games,” the Argentine Hockey Confederation said in a statement.
Argentina’s qualification for the games was in doubt after falling 4-2 to the United States at last month’s Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Las Leonas (Lionesses) had won every gold medal at the quadrennial games since 1987. As a result, Argentina appeared to be destined to play in a qualifying tournament in Belgium in March.
However, the South African Olympic committee deemed its country’s African nations tournament victory wasn’t rigorous enough to merit an invitation to the London Games. That slot was then awarded to the highest-ranked, which hadn’t already earned a bid: Argentina.
The men’s field hockey team already earned a bid to the London Games last month when it defeated rival Canada, 3-1, in the final of the Pan American Games.