World champion Argentina made it three wins out of three in South American World Cup qualifying with a hard-earned 1-0 win over a determined Paraguay on Thursday.
A third-minute goal from Nicolas Otamendi was just enough for Lionel Scaloni’s team, with Lionel Messi coming off the bench in the second half and hitting the woodwork twice.
AS IT HAPPENED: Argentina vs Paraguay highlights
Messi’s fight for full fitness inevitably dominated the build-up to Argentina’s attempt to maintain its 100% record, and the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner started on the bench with Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez leading the attack.
But it was veteran defender Otamandi who provided the moment of attacking inspiration, meeting a Rodrigo De Paul corner with a brilliant volley at the back post.
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Atletico Madrid midfielder De Paul went close to doubling the lead three minutes before the break when he struck the post, and moments later, Nicolas Gonzalez fired just wide.
Messi replaced Alvarez in the 53rd minute as Scaloni looked to break down a disciplined and well-organised Paraguay side, but the woodwork foiled their talisman.
An inswinging corner from the right almost snuck in but struck the post, and then, after winning a free kick on the edge of the box, Messi curled his shot against the same post.