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Messi helps Argentina overcome Uruguay and top qualifying group

Messi returns to the Argentine side to orchestrate an important win over South American rivals Uruguay in the World Cup qualifiers.

Buenos Aires
Messi helps Argentina overcome Uruguay and top qualifying group

Messi returned to the Argentina side as if he'd never left...even if he had done so only in words and emotions. The Barcelona star played with the enthusiasm of a young child and on a memorable night as the nation remembered their love for their leading man and he for them. 

Lionel Messi scored the winning goal on his return from a short-lived international retirement on Thursday as Argentina defeated Uruguay to take control of South America's 2018 World Cup qualifying race.

Messi had stunned the footballing world in June after vowing to never play for Argentina again following an agonizing defeat to Chile in the final of the Copa America Centenario. But that tearful farewell was a distant memory at Mendoza's Estadio Malvinas on Thursday as the Barcelona superstar orchestrated a 1-0 victory over the two-time World Cup winners.

Messi's deflected shot from the edge of the area is enough for all three points.
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Messi's deflected shot from the edge of the area is enough for all three points.MARCOS BRINDICCIREUTERS

Messi, showing no sign of the groin injury which had placed a question mark against his participation, lashed home the winner on 42 minutes, with his low shot taking a wicked deflection to deceive Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera at the near post.

Showing the love

Afterwards Messi paid tribute to the rapturous applause he received throughout.

In the dying minutes one young fan sprinted onto the pitch and nearly flattened the five-time world footballer of the year with a congratulatory hug.

"I am grateful to the people for the treatment, for the love," Messi said, insisting his retirement announcement in June was genuine as he digested a third defeat in a final with Argentina in as many years. "I wasn't trying to cheat anyone, I said what I felt. (Now) I feel happy," Messi said.

Argentina's new coach Edgardo Bauza meanwhile saluted Messi's commitment in returning to play despite his niggling groin problem.

The coach hinted Messi may be rested for Argentina's next match, against Venezuela on Tuesday. "If he's not right we won't risk him," Bauza said. "I know how painful it is to suffer a groin injury -- but Messi's character meant he was always going to stay on the pitch tonight."

A game of two halves

Uruguay had named a powerful looking starting line-up, with Messi's Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez spearheading the visitors' attack alongside Edinson Cavani. Captain Diego Godin was also back in the heart of the Uruguayan defence to give the two-time World Cup winners a reassuring solidity.

Yet with the talismanic Messi back in the fold, it was Argentina who enjoyed the better of the opening half. Angel Di Maria created the first chance after 32 minutes, winning the ball brilliantly in midfield before laying off to Dybala who advanced on goal. The 22-year-old let fly with a vicious low shot which crashed off the bottom of the post and cannoned into the back of diving Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera for a corner.

At the other end, Uruguay's only chance of note came in the 34th minute when Suarez's long-range free kick beat the Argentine wall only to be gathered safely by Sergio Romero. With half-time approaching Messi, pounced. A sublime piece of control took him towards the edge of the area, and his firm low shot deflected off of Jose Gimenez to deceive Muslera at the near post.

Chilean referee Julio Bascunan shows the red card to Argentina's Paulo Dybala.
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Chilean referee Julio Bascunan shows the red card to Argentina's Paulo Dybala.JUAN MABROMATAAFP

But Argentina's celebrations were cut short when, just before half-time, Dybala saw red for a clumsy challenge on Mathias Corujo that drew a second yellow from Chilean referee Julio Bascunan and was escorted from the pitch in tears. That left Argentina needing to dig deep during a physical second half.

But despite relentless Uruguay pressure in the closing stages, a determined Argentina defensive effort, led by Javier Mascherano, saw the hosts hold on.

Argentina's win leaves them in first place in South America's marathon round-robin qualifying campaign with 14 points from seven games.

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