Monday, December 18, 2017
Sports

Lionel Messi propels Argentina

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — It took Lionel Messi just more than an hour into Argentina's World Cup opener Sunday against Bosnia-Herzegovina to show why so many fans consider him the best in the world.

After a frustrating first half, the captain scored in trademark style in the 65th minute, completing a quick 1-2 connection with Gonzalo Higuain and running through defenders before striking a brilliant left-footed shot off the post.

Messi's goal — only the second on soccer's biggest stage for the four-time world player of the year — set off wild celebrations among the throngs of Argentine fans that had turned the famed Maracana stadium into a sea of blue and white.

Vedad Ibisevic scored in the 85th minute as Bosnia avoided a shutout in its World Cup debut, but Argentina held on to win 2-1 in the Group F match.

"It's the first game. I was anxious, nervous," Messi said. "It was important to start with a win. We've got to improve certain things, but it was important to start with the three points."

Bosnia got the worst possible start when defender Sead Kolasinovic scored an own goal after just three minutes. Messi sent a free kick into the penalty area that Marcos Rojo barely touched before the ball bounced off Kolasinovic's foot into Bosnia's goal.

Bosnia bounced back, with Izet Hajrovic and Senad Lulic testing goalkeeper Sergio Romero. Meanwhile, there was no sign of Argentina's vaunted attack.

Coach Alejandro Sabella put in Higuain at halftime in place of Maxi Rodriguez; that move let Messi to take a step back. The shift proved crucial.

"The changes gave Messi more support," Sabella said. "He doesn't need much, because he's the best in the world."

After a string of dangerous runs, Messi combined with Higuain, pulled left along the penalty area, and scored after leaping over defender Ermin Bicakic without losing speed and balance.

Messi, who has been accused by critics of not playing with as much heart for the national team as he does for his club team, Barcelona, pulled on his blue-and-white striped jersey and ran to the sideline before pumping his fist toward the fans.

"I wanted to release all the energy from other times when things didn't go right (with the national team)," he said. "It's always a pleasure to score with the national team."

Switzerland 2, Ecuador 1: Switzerland won with virtually the final kick in Brasilia, continuing a trend of comeback victories in this tournament.

With seconds left in the third and final minute of stoppage times, substitute striker Haris Seferovic finished off a length-of-the-field move by slamming home a close-range shot. Ecuador's shocked players barely had time to restart before the final whistle blew.

"It was a dream to be able to win this match in the very last minute like this," Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said of the fifth comeback win in this tourney — there were only three in the entire 2010 World Cup.

France 3, Honduras 0: Karim Benzema scored twice and created a third goal that was confirmed by goal-line technology as France rolled in Porto Alegre.

"Winning 3-0 at a World Cup isn't easy," France coach Didier Deschamps said. "(The players should) savor the moment, there's nothing more wonderful."

Benzema's first goal came from a penalty just before halftime after Honduran midfielder Wilson Palacios was sent off with his second yellow card.

Early in the second half, Benzema shot across the goal. The ball came back, and keeper Valladares fumbled it over the goal line. The new technology system confirmed that the goal stood.

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