BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — Lionel Messi and goalkeeper Franco Armani saved Argentina from another Copa America defeat on Wednesday.
Messi scored a second-half equalizer and Armani later saved a penalty kick as Argentina salvaged a 1-1 draw with Paraguay at the Mineirao Stadium, leaving the team last in its group but still in contention for a spot in the knockout stage of the South American competition.
After Richard Sanchez opened the scoring for Paraguay in the 37th minute, Messi converted a 57th-minute penalty kick awarded by video review following a handball by a defender inside the area.
Derlis Gonzalez had a chance to put Paraguay ahead again five minutes later, but Armani saved his shot from the penalty spot.
Argentina, which had opened with a 2-0 loss to Colombia, stayed with one point from two matches in Group B. Qatar, which lost 1-0 to Colombia earlier Thursday, also had one point but was ahead on the tiebreakers. Paraguay stayed with two points and Colombia had six, already secured in the knockout stage.
Argentina, whose last group-stage elimination in the Copa America was in 1983, will need a win against guest Qatar on Sunday to advance to the next round.
The top two teams in each of the three groups advance, along with the best two third-place finishers.
Argentina, trying to end a title drought of 26 years, started the match with four changes to the team that lost to Colombia in the opener. Among those replaced were veterans Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria. Their substitutes were Lautaro Martinez and Rodrigo De Paul.
Midfielder Roberto Pereyra and defender Milton Casco also joined the starting lineup, replacing Guido Rodriguez and Renzo Saravia.
The changes by coach Lionel Scaloni didn’t do much to improve Argentina, which again struggled to create scoring chances.
Messi, in his fifth Copa America, played on the right flank, with Giovani Lo Celso and Leandro Paredes taking over the playmaking responsibilities at midfield.
The first half showed Paraguay with the best chances on counterattacks, with Gonzalez nearly opening the scoring with a shot that deflected off a defender in the 30th minute.
Paraguay finally got on the board when Miguel Almiron ran past two Argentine defenders and sent a low cross to Sanchez, who hit a firm shot into the corner.
Paraguay kept the pressure until halftime, but Messi and Argentina improved significantly after the break, with Aguero and Di Maria helping in attack.
After a video review saw a handball by Ivan Piris inside the area, Messi calmly converted from the spot to even the match at the Mineirao.
Gonzalez saw Armani save his penalty five minutes later after Nicolas Otamendi fouled him inside the area.
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