Porto Alegre: An early goal by Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero’s late second gave Argentina a 2-0 win over Qatar on Sunday that qualified them for the Copa America quarter-finals.
Already-qualified Colombia beat Paraguay 1-0 in the other Group B match to secure a place in the last eight for both Peru, who finished third in Group A, and Uruguay, currently second in Group C. Argentina, who finish second in Group B behind Colombia, will play Venezuela at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana stadium in the quarter-finals, while tournament debutants and guests Qatar are out.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni recalled Manchester City forward Aguero for the crunch tie while Martinez kept his place at the expense of Angel Di Maria. Asian champions Qatar made a calamitous start when a weak headed clearance from Tarek Salman fell to Martinez 12 yards out, but the Inter Milan forward sent his volley over the top.
He didn’t have to wait long for another chance though as Bassam Hisham played a ball across his box and straight to the feet of the Argentina forward, who scuffed a shot into the bottom corner after just four minutes.
“The goal came early and that allowed us to approach the game with greater calmness,” said Martinez. “There was pressure, we had to win to progress and we’re happy. Now we have to work hard.”
With the weight was lifted from Argentina’s shoulders, they played with a freedom expected of a side boasting talents such as Aguero and five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi.
Qatar played with limited ambition but their talented forwards looked dangerous when they did venture into the final third. Hasan Khalid Al Haydos got in behind the Argentina backline and tried to chip Franco Armani but the goalkeeper got a touch to divert the ball behind, although the linesman’s flag was up and it wouldn’t have counted.
“We paid for inexperience, we started two matches by conceding goals from unnecessary actions,” said Qatar’s Spanish coach Felix Sanchez, alluding to their opening tie against Paraguay when they also conceded in the fourth minute. “We played a great team that knew they had to win, they took their first chance really well. It was our mistake.”
Argentina will start from afresh in the Copa America after averting disaster with Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Qatar that sent them into the knock-out stages, star Lionel Messi said.
“The important thing was to win to keep going in the Copa, to get through the group stage,” said Messi. “This will be an important boost for what’s to come ... another Copa begins now. This victory must give us strength and make us grow as a team.”
Messi admitted, though, that there were nerves in the Argentina camp.
“It’s tough playing this kind of game due to the necessity, the obligation (to win), the fear of missing out. But beyond that we played well and went through, which is what matters,” he said....