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World Cup warm-ups: Super sub Messi finally sizzles for Argentina

Last updated on: June 08, 2014 13:47 IST

World Cup warm-ups: Super sub Messi finally sizzles for Argentina

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Substitute Lionel Messi scored his 38th goal for Argentina as they breezed past Slovenia 2-0 in their final World Cup warmup on Saturday.

Messi, his country's second highest scorer after Gabriel Batistuta, had not found the net in an international since a 5-2 qualifying win over Paraguay in Asuncion in September.

Argentina's captain began the match on the bench along with other key players like Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, with coach Alejandro Sabella fearful of his squad being caught up in the spate of injuries affecting other World Cup finalists.

Sabella used the friendly at the Estadio Unico to test an alternative tactical plan with three at the back and five across the middle before changing things in the second half.

Winger Ricky Alvarez opened the scoring in the 12th minute with a low left-foot shot from the edge of the box but two minutes later midfielder Lucas Biglia came off after receiving a knock and was replaced by Hugo Campagnaro.

In the 76th minute Di Maria lobbed the ball from the edge of the box to the left where Aguero headed it down to Messi, who had come on for Alvarez in the 57th, and he dinked it between two defenders and the goalkeeper.

"Now the hour of truth has come, the friendlies are over and we're going to Brazil full of desire," Messi told reporters after winning his 86th cap.

"We've managed to be a united and very strong squad and we did that as Alejandro wanted. We're more together than ever because of the dream we all have."

Biglia joined Rodrigo Palacio, who twisted his ankle in the 3-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago on Wednesday, and Martin Demichelis in nursing minor injuries as the squad headed for their tournament base in Belo Horizonte.

Argentina open their Group F programme against Bosnia at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on June 15 before meeting Iran in Belo Horizonte on June 21 and Nigeria in Porto Alegre four days later.

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Image: Argentina's Lionel Messi,left, runs past Slovenia's goalkeeper Vid Belec
Photographs: Martin Acosta/Reuters
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Toothless England held by 10-man Honduras

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England came up against a resilient Honduras side reduced to 10 men for the last 20 minutes and found themselves short on ideas about how to break them down as they were held to a 0-0 draw in their last World Cup warmup match on Saturday.

England striker Daniel Sturridge had the best chance of the game after 22 minutes but his weak left-foot shot missed the far post and he was guilty of wasting two other good opportunities before a crowd of 45,379 at the Sun Life stadium.

The match was suspended for 43 minutes in the first half due to the threat of lightning although in the second period the sparks were on the pitch with Honduras reduced to 10 men when Brayan Beckeles caught Leighton Baines in the head with his arm.

But England failed to capitalise on the one-man advantage in the closing stages leaving manager Roy Hodgson to put a brave face on their second draw in Miami after Wednesday's exciting 2-2 result against Ecuador in front of half as many fans.

"It's time for the real thing now," he told ITV. "Everyone is fit, (injured winger) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is making progress and I think he will make the tournament.

"Honduras were quite physical and it was one of the most frustrating games I have been involved in for a long time. I thought the tempo of our play and effort to score in the second half was commendable," he added.

"I will take the draw and take the fact we got away without any injuries. We go to Brazil in the right frame of mind."

Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez, whose team lost their previous warmup game 4-2 to Israel, was delighted with the draw, telling reporters: "A result like that against England can make people in Honduras believe and give them optimism."

England's opening World Cup game is against Italy on June 14 followed by Uruguay and Costa Rica in Group D.Honduras start versus France before facing Ecuador and Switzerland in Group E.

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Image: England's Gary Cahill,centre, heads the ball with help from teammate Phil Jagielka away from Honduras' Carlo Costly
Photographs: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

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Belgium head to Brazil on a high after Tunisia victory

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A late Dries Mertens goal gave Belgium a 1-0 victory over Tunisia in their final World Cup warmup friendly on Saturday, ensuring they go to Brazil on a high note after a match temporarily halted by hail.

The home side dominated possession, but for much of the encounter they barely tested Tunisia's keeper and had only a few tame shots and a couple of missed half-chances even after the visitors had a man sent off with almost half an hour to play.

Only in the 89th minute did substitute Nacer Chadli find Mertens in space in the penalty area and he calmly stroked it in with his right foot.

One note of concern was that striker Romelu Lukaku, who only came on for the last half hour, hobbled off in injury time.

"Romelu has difficulty walking. It's a big bruise. I think it'll be three or four days. We'll do some additional tests tomorrow," Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said.

Belgium fly to Sao Paolo on Tuesday, with a practice match behind closed doors against the United States pencilled in for Thursday.

Belgium face Algeria in Belo Horizonte on June 17, with Russia and South Korea their other group H opponents.

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Image: Belgium's Dries Mertens reacts after scoring against Tunisia
Photographs: Laurent Dubrule/Reuters

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Altidore strikes twice for US in win over Nigeria

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Jozy Altidore ended his goal drought to score twice as the United States completed their World Cup preparations with a 2-1 win over Nigeria at Ever Bank Field in Jacksonville on Saturday.

Altidore had not scored since December for either his English Premier League club Sunderland or the national team but managed a goal in each half to send the US to Brazil on the back of three successive friendly victories.

Nigeria forward Victor Moses spoiled US keeper Tim Howard’s hopes of a clean sheet in his 100th international appearance with a late consolation from the penalty spot.

US coach Juergen Klinsmann selected two holding midfielders to address the defensive shortcomings in his side’s 2-1 win over Turkey last Sunday.

Nigeria pulled a goal back on 86 minutes after Matt Besler dragged Moses to the ground inside the area and he rose to coolly slot the spot kick.

The US team leaves for their World Cup base in Sao Paolo on Sunday and begin their Group G campaign against Ghana on June 16 with games against Portugal and Germany to follow.

Nigeria meets Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Argentina in Group F.


Image: United States forward Jozy Altidore,centre, reacts after he scored a goal during the second half against the Nigeria
Photographs: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

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