Sports

Messi pulls the strings for Argentina

The little wizard makes the difference for Argentina

CONMEBOL

ARGENTINA 3

(Lionel Messi 10, Lucas Pratto 23, Angel di Maria 84)

COLOMBIA 0

The game was about Lionel Messi, the news surrounding the match was about Ezequiel Lavezzi.

But, in he end, Messi had a say in both.

The little Argentine wizard produced a magical display to get his country's World Cup qualification back on track yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Messi curled home a stunning 25m free-kick and set up goals for Lucas Pratto and Angel di Maria in a 3-0 win over Colombia in San Juan.

The victory elevated Argentina into the qualifying places after a disastrous run of results which saw them take just two points from their previous four games.

But the feelgood factor generated by the result was overshadowed by a media boycott imposed by a furious Messi and his Argentina teammates after the final whistle.

Messi said the Albiceleste's players were incensed by a claim made by an Argentine journalist that forward Lavezzi had been caught smoking marijuana in the camp.

Lavezzi, who was not included on the substitutes bench against Colombia, has angrily denied the claims.

"We have made the decision not to talk to the press any more, obviously you know why," said Messi, who has an often tense relationship with Argentina's media.

"There were a lot of accusations, a lot of disrespect, and the accusations they made against 'Pocho' (Lavezzi) are very serious.

"We know that most of you guys don't play that game of disrespect.

"We can be criticised if we lose, or win, or if we play well or badly. But this is getting into personal lives.

"If we don't put a stop to it now, we'll never stop it."

Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza said the victory made him happy for the team.

"I told the players I'm happy for them after a week of criticism (following the defeat by Brazil) and because it wasn't an easy match," he said.

"Messi is a great and decisive player, he showed that in the first goal and with the others."

Colombia coach Jose Pekerman echoed his views. "Messi made the difference,'' he said.

The win left Argentina in fifth spot in the 10-team standings, with 19 points from 12 games.

The top four sides qualify automatically for the 2018 Finals in Russia while the fifth-placed team go into a playoff with the first-placed team from the Oceania zone.

Colombia, meanwhile, slipped to sixth place following the defeat, one point behind Argentina.

- Wire Services.

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