Argentina is alive. The 2015 and 2016 finalists will play in the knockout rounds of the 2019 Copa America thanks to a 2-0 win over Qatar in Porto Alegre on Sunday. The Albiceleste were the best team and never looked like losing, and despite an average performance from Barcelona’s Lionel Messi the rest of the side looked strong and clinched not only a place in the quarterfinals but second place in the group, which sets up a very favorable matchup against Venezuela in the next round.
The game started with an early goal for Argentina thanks to a terrible mistake by the Qatar defense and a good finish by Lautaro Martínez, which eased the pressure on the favorites and let them play the game how they wanted.
The Albiceleste was good at mixing up how they defended when Qatar had the ball, pressing high sometimes then dropping really deep inside their half when the opponents advanced more, which meant they were able to avoid any trouble and still remain dangerous when they got the ball back.
The front three of Messi, Lautaro and Agüero created a lot of chances thanks to their smart and constant movement in the final third, and Argentina missed at least three huge chances (Agüero twice and Otamendi) to increase the lead.
At halftime a good team performance had Argentina qualified, but they needed to score again to ensure they’d get the win.
Qatar knew they were going out with the loss, so they sent more bodies forward and tried to press higher looking for an equalizer, which left a lot of space at the back for Argentina to try and exploit.
For a lot of the final period the Selección created chance after chance on the break, but a combination of poor finishing by the forwards (including Messi) and a couple of great saves from goalkeeper Al Sheeb kept the score at 1-0, and it seemed like we were headed for a tense finish.
Then Agüero went on an amazing run, turned Boualem Khoukhi inside out and scored a beautiful goal to give Argentina a two-goal lead and kill the game. Qatar desperately tried to score at least once to stay alive, but they couldn’t get it.
The final whistle came to confirm a big win for Argentina, who avoid the group stage elimination and still finish second in the group thanks to Colombia’s win over Paraguay in the other game. Messi got help for the first time, and they’ll face the weakest quarterfinalist. Now that’s a good Sunday.
Qatar: Al Sheeb; Pedro (Ismaeil), Al-Rawi, Khoukhi, Hajri (Al-Harak), Tarek; Al-Haydos, Boudiaf, Hatem; Almoez, Afif
Argentina: Armani; Saravia, Foyth (Pezzella), Otamendi, Tagliafico; De Paul, Paredes, Lo Celso (Acuña); Messi, Lautaro (Dybala), Agüero
Goals: Lautaro (4’), Agüero (82’)