Lionel Messi marked his return from the briefest of international retirements with a match winning performance to give Argentina, and his adoring public in Mendoza, victory over Uruguay and send La Albiceleste top of the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying group.
Edgardo Bauza in his first game in charge of the national side will have been relieved that he was able to persuade Messi to return, as the Barcelona star was the game’s outstanding player and delivered the decisive moment just three minutes before half time.
The Barcelona star appeared to have been crowded out on the edge of the Uruguay penalty area but turned into a pocket of space before firing a shot that deflected off José María Giménez and past Fernando Muslera.
Uruguay were perhaps fortunate to find themselves only a goal down at this stage with Bauza’s tweaked Argentina enjoying the vast majority of possession and appearing the more threatening.
Messi’s prior glimpses on goal had been blocked by last ditch defensive efforts and Paulo Dybala had come within an inch of a first international goal with a low shot that first rattled Muslera’s post and then the goalkeeper’s head but still didn’t find the net.
However, the game’s momentum shifted somewhat a minute before Julio Bascuñán blew for half time when the Chilean referee brandished Dybala a second yellow card.
The Juventus forward left the field in tears but his only real crime was perhaps naivety for allowing himself to get in the situation after already earning a very harsh first yellow earlier in the half.
With the dynamic of the game changed Uruguay were able to push forward more but despite the numerical advantage, Sergio Romero remained untroubled for almost the entire 90 minutes.
Edgardo Bauza’s defence performed superbly shielded by the outstanding Javier Mascherano and when Argentina did get the ball Lionel Messi was still able to lead several Uruguayans on a merry dance.
The red card undoubtedly made it a more gruelling game than perhaps it would have been if it remained 11 v 11 but it was a vital three points for La Albiceleste.
Ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Venezuela, for which it isn’t certain if Messi will play, Argentina sit top of the qualification group and there were plenty of positives to take from Bauza’s debut.
Argentina 1 – 0 Uruguay
Elsewhere in CONMEBOL qualifying, Colombia defeated Venezuela to move up into second, level on points with Uruguay and Ecuador, who lost at home to a rejuvenated Brazil side. Tite’s recently crowned Olympic champions sit on twelve points with Paraguay after they edged out Chile and Bolivia earlier beat Peru.
This leaves the top seven in the table seperated by only four points in what is the most competitive World Cup qualifying group in world football.