Lionel Messi set up the winner as Argentina edged rivals Uruguay 1-0 to claim their first victory of the 2021 Copa America in Brasilia on Friday.

Argentina, who have not lifted the Copa America since 1993, had drawn 1-1 with Chile in their opening game but secured three points thanks to Guido Rodriguez's first international goal in the 13th minute.

Messi pulled the strings for 14-time Copa runners-up La Albiceleste – beaten finalists in 2015 and 2016 – with his cross from the left flank finding Real Betis midfielder Rodriguez for his winner, which snapped Argentina's run of three consecutive draws while extending their unbeaten streak to 15 matches.

Uruguay, playing their first game of this year's CONMEBOL tournament, were left frustrated by a resolute Argentina, while they were left to bemoan a first-half penalty shout which was turned down.

Argentina started brightly as Messi stung the palms of Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera with a curling seventh-minute effort, before Nicolas Otamendi had a header saved.

Messi then created space down the left for a cross which found Rodriguez, who nodded in off the inside of the post for his maiden Argentina goal.

In the 27th minute, Uruguay had a penalty shout turned down when Rodriguez appeared to make slight contact with Edinson Cavani inside the box.

Argentina raced down the other end with Messi laying off for Nahuel Molina, who tested Muslera at the near post.

Opportunities were few and far between in the second half, with Uruguay star Cavani almost glancing in a half-chance in the 69th minute while a subdued Luis Suarez flashed a volley over as Uruguay built some momentum.

Argentina struggled to create anything of note after the break, relying in attack on Messi, who was regularly crowded out by Uruguay's defence.

 

Ben Brereton scored his first international goal as Chile edged to a 1-0 win over Bolivia in Copa America Group A on Friday. 

Martin Lasarte's side opened their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Argentina on Monday and, despite the slender scoreline, they never looked like failing to follow that up with maximum points against a limited Bolivia outfit at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba. 

Blackburn Rovers striker Brereton, who made his debut from the substitutes' bench against Argentina, scored the only goal of the game early on, firing past Carlos Lampe after an incisive breakaway. 

Chile carved out numerous chances to extend their lead – most of which came in an utterly dominant first half – but they were unable to find a way past their opponents, who have now lost their opening two games. 

Jean Meneses' long-range drive was kept out by Lampe in the early stages before Brereton opened the scoring after 10 minutes, rolling into the bottom-right corner after being teed up by Eduardo Vargas.

Lampe then denied Chile on three occasions in quick succession, superbly keeping out efforts from Brereton, Erick Pulgar and Meneses. 

Roberto Fernandez missed a glorious opportunity for Bolivia, firing wide from 10 yards with no-one around him, while Lampe repelled Brereton and Vargas, while Meneses dragged narrowly wide before half-time. 

Bolivia were much improved after the interval, with Erwin Saavedra forcing a smart stop out of Claudio Bravo shortly before the hour mark. 

Eugenio Mena headed straight at Lampe in the closing stages as Chile ultimately fell short of finding a second goal their dominance deserved.

What does it mean? Wasteful Chile do enough

Victory for Chile moved them top of Group A, although they could be reined in when Paraguay and Argentina play their second games, while Uruguay are still yet to begin. Still, four points from two games is not to be sniffed at.

The only disappointment for Lasarte's side will be that they failed to give the scoreline a more accurate reflection of their dominance. They had 18 shots (11 on target) to Bolivia's 10 (three on target) and really should have taken a few of those chances. 

Brereton makes his mark

Brereton's inclusion in Chile's squad for this tournament came as something of a surprise, given his English background and less-than prolific strike rate in the Championship. However, he looked at home on the big stage here, opening the scoring with a composed finish – one of a game-high three shots on target.

Vidal off the pace

Arturo Vidal did not look happy to be brought off after 69 minutes for Tomas Alarcon but the Inter midfielder was far from his best. The 34-year-old, who had just one shot despite his side's dominance, lost possession on 11 occasions –  the joint-highest total of any Chile player.

What's next?

Both sides face Uruguay next, Chile coming up against them on Monday and Bolivia meeting them on Thursday.

Brazilian superstar Neymar had quite a few Peruvian players at his mercy with a dazzling display of tricks and skills at COPA America on Thursday.  Eventually, they had enough and the Brazilian was brought down.  Neymar found the back of the net, in the 68th minute, in an easy 4-0 win for the Seleção.  The goal also moved the forward closer to the all-time national scoring record of world football legend Pele.

Neymar scored for the fourth consecutive international to move within nine goals of Pele's all-time scoring record and head coach Tite said there is no limit for his superstar player.

Neymar scored once and played a major role in setting up the other three goals as defending champions Brazil routed Peru 4-0 to make it two wins from two games at the Copa America.

On Thursday, Neymar's strike took his international tally to 68 goals, second overall for Brazil, behind only Selecao great Pele with 77.

Since his 2010 debut, Neymar has scored 49 goals more than any of his international team-mates in that period.

"I don't know where Neymar can reach," Tite said in a post-match news conference. "In terms of technical capacity, I really hope he's always healthy and doesn't get injured."

Neymar was emotional when he spoke to the media post-game, being brought to tears after moving a step closer to Pele's record.

"I didn't see the interview, but I knew he was moved," Tite said.

Since Tite took charge of Brazil in 2016, the Selecao have scored two-plus goals in 37 of the 56 games; 66 per cent of those games scoring more than one goal (W36 D1).

Neymar has not been the only beneficiary of Tite's tenure and the coach spoke about his relationship with his players.

"What is in my relationship with Neymar is the same thing that has with the youngest member of the team, which is Vinicius Junior, loyalty," he said.

"Loyalty in the change-rooms and not publicly expressing adversities without first directing them to the athlete. This is perhaps the greatest experience I bring from my time as a player. I would like my coach to talk to me about my mistakes and not publicly communicate them.

"I know the media is looking for information and that's their role. But my role is always to make things transparent both for Vini Jr, who is the youngest, and for Neymar, one of the more experienced."

Brazil are next in action on Wednesday against Colombia in Rio de Janeiro.

Neymar to eclipse Pele? It is now a matter of when, not if.

Touted as the heir to Pele's throne long ago, Neymar is only nine goals away from equalling the Brazil legend's record of 77 goals for the Selecao.

Neymar was on target as Brazil made it two wins from two games to start their Copa America defence with a 4-0 rout of Peru on Thursday, taking his international tally to 68 goals.

Often a maligned and criticised figure in the world of football due to his on-field antics – evident when the referee overturned a penalty after conducting a VAR check – there was no doubting Neymar's quality and standing within Brazilian football against Peru.

"It is obvious that for me it is a great honour to be part of the history of the Brazilian team," an emotional Neymar said post-match. "To be quite honest, my dream was always to play for the national team, to wear this shirt. I never imagined reaching those numbers.

"For me it's even exciting, because I went through a lot in these two years that are very difficult, complicated, and those numbers are nothing. The happiness I have to play for Brazil, to represent my country, my family."

Unfazed by the penalty reversal moments earlier, Neymar then popped up and fired a low long-range shot past Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese with 22 minutes remaining.

No one comes close to Neymar since his Brazil debut in 2010. The 29-year-old has scored 49 goals more than any of his international team-mates in that period.

While he only found the back of the net once, Neymar was at the heart of Brazil's big moments.

There were flicks, stepovers and moments of trademark Neymar flare – playing a key role in goals for Alex Sandro, Everton Ribeiro and Richarlison. He had a match-best three key passes and five total shots, to go with his game-high seven fouls won.

Neymar is at the centre of all things good about Tite's red-hot Brazil.

Since Tite took charge in 2016, Brazil have scored two-plus goals in 37 of the 56 games under the former Corinthians boss; 66 per cent of those games scoring more than one goal (W36 D1).

Prior to easing past Peru, Brazil had never lost in the 43 previous games overseen by head coach Tite when scoring the opening goal (W38 D5) in all competitions.

Tite's Brazil – building towards Qatar 2022 in pursuit of a coveted first World Cup crown since 2002 – have won nine consecutive games, keeping eight clean sheets.

Brazil has given the football world some of the best forwards and strikers to play the game – Pele, Ronaldo, Romario, Zico, Bebeto and others.

But Neymar is set to stand alone at the summit.

Brazil extended their winning run to nine games and made it two victories from two matches to start the Copa America with a 4-0 triumph over Peru on Thursday.

Alex Sandro fired defending champions Brazil ahead early before star team-mate Neymar added the second goal in the 68th minute, marking the fourth consecutive match he has scored for the Selecao. 

It was Neymar's 68th international goal as the Paris Saint-Germain forward closed within Pele's record of 77 for Brazil.

Everton Ribeiro and Richarlison completed the scoring during the closing stages in Rio de Janeiro, where the result continued Brazil's exceptional form under head coach Tite, having not conceded a goal in their past six games.

Peru, playing their Copa America opener, were dogged but created few genuine goal-scoring opportunities.

After Fred shot wide early, the Selecao took the lead in the 12th minute, when Neymar broke on the left with his cross finding Gabriel Jesus – who cut back for Alex Sandro to turn home from inside the six-yard box.

Brazil had never lost in the 43 previous games under Tite in all competitions when they had scored first, but Peru still forced their way into the game.

Danilo blocked Peru's first real chance from Christian Cueva's 39th-minute shot which had beaten the onrushing Ederson, shortly after Fabinho flashed a shot wide through a crowded penalty area.

Neymar thought he had won a penalty on the hour-mark when he fell under pressure from Renato Tapia, but referee Patricio Loustau reversed his original decision after a VAR check.

He did not need to wait long for his goal, collecting the ball just outside the box and drilling a low shot past Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese.

Neymar set up half-time substitute Richarlison for a 73rd-minute chance saved by Gallese, while Peru substitute Alex Valera volleyed over a gilt-edged chance in the 79th minute.

Brazil scored a third goal as Neymar dashed forward, finding Richarlison on the left and the Everton star centred for Everton Ribeiro who forced home his maiden international goal in the final minute of regulation.

Richarlison added another in the third minute of stoppage time, finding the back of the net following a goal-mouth scramble after Gallese saved Roberto Firmino's initial effort from Neymar's neat throughball.

Colombia's winning start to the Copa America ground to a halt as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Venezuela, whose goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez kept La Tricolor's illustrious forwards at bay.

Reinaldo Rueda's side dominated the contest at Olimpico Pedro Ludovico in Goiania but failed to find a way past Venezuela's hardworking keeper.

Rueda restored Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel to his starting line-up but the duo were frustrated as Colombia attempted 12 first-half shots without success.

The introduction of Porto winger Luis Diaz did little to improve their prospects, and he was shown a straight red card in stoppage time as Venezuela battled to a valuable point.

Yerry Mina should have opened the scoring when he stretched to meet Daniel Munoz's cross after 13 minutes but could not poke the ball into the gaping net.

Colombia continued to press and Edwin Cardona drew a good save from Farinez with a low drive from the edge of the box, and Zapata was denied in a one-on-one moments later.

Zapata burst through a line of Venezuela defenders 10 minutes before the interval but his fierce angled shot was parried away well by Farinez.

Farinez's determined display continued in the second half, when he made a fingertip save to push Mateus Uribe's spectacular overhead kick over the crossbar. The goalkeeper made eight saves in total.

The game became fractious as both sides tired, and Diaz was shown a straight red card after a clash with Francisco La Mantia, compounding Colombia's frustration.

What does it mean? Brazil poised to go top

A point for Brazil against Peru on Friday would be enough to send them top of the group, as Colombia rue their missed opportunities to claim what would have been a second win in as many Group B matches.

Cuadrado not to blame

Colombia rely on Juan Cuadrado to provide their strikers with opportunities, and the Juventus wide man did not disappoint, contributing seven key passes.

No repeat of Cardona magic

Cardona scored just before half-time to help Colombia win their Group B opener against Ecuador, but here he laboured and was substituted after 62 minutes with one shot on target to his name.

What's next?

Venezuela face Ecuador in their third Zona Norte match on Sunday, while Colombia take on Peru.

Lionel Messi issued something of a rallying cry as Argentina attempt to kick-start their Copa America campaign against Uruguay on Friday.

Messi scored Argentina's only goal – a gorgeous free-kick – last time out, but it was not enough to seal a victory against Chile.

Eduardo Vargas levelled for La Roja after Arturo Vidal failed to convert an initial penalty, and despite Argentina creating a plethora of chances, they could not find a way past Claudio Bravo again.

Nicolas Gonzalez, who is reportedly close to joining Brighton and Hove Albion, was particularly culpable, spurning several good opportunities. He had six shots with a total xG (expected goals) value of 1.2, but he failed to find the net with any of them – Neymar is the only player with a higher xG (1.5) who failed to score so far.

 

As it turns out, Lionel Scaloni is reportedly considering resting Gonzalez due to him coming into the tournament with an injury, though Cristian Romero is potentially in line for a return at the back after a thigh issue.

Whoever plays, Messi is looking to ensure they are suitably motivated ahead of what will undoubtedly be another bruising encounter, given the historic rivalry between Argentina and Uruguay, who have not lost any of their last five Copa America games (after 90 minutes).

On his official Instagram account, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner wrote: "We are prepared to compete and we will continue fighting to win every game. Vamos Argentina!"

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina – Nicolas Otamendi

While Argentina certainly are not shy of talent going forward, they are less convincing at the back. Otamendi has come in for criticism in recent times lately, and even posted a message on social media this week addressing the situation, saying: "Don't allow the noise of other people's opinions to silence your inner voice. Always be positive." But in fairness to him, his four tackles was twice as many as any of his team-mates last time out, while his six clearances was five more than anyone else.

Uruguay – Lucas Torreira

Sure, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani carry a lot of responsibility going forward for Uruguay, but they need to do their best to keep Messi quiet as well. A fool's errand that may be, but – if he starts – Torreira is likely to have some say in whether or not La Celeste can keep the Barcelona man quiet. A feisty competitor and tough tackler, his potential duel with Messi could be crucial.

KEY OPTA FACTS

-Argentina and Uruguay will meet in a Copa America campaign after going two tournaments without doing so (2016 and 2019). La Albiceleste are unbeaten in their last four meetings against La Celeste (W3 D1). The last Uruguay win was in 1989.

-Argentina have lost just one of their last nine meetings with Uruguay in all competitions (W5 D3). Their last defeat against Uruguay was in October 2013.

-Uruguay come into this game on an unbeaten run of five games (90 minutes only). Their last defeat in 90 minutes in this competition was in June 2016 (0-1 vs Venezuela).

-Argentina scored with only six per cent of their shots – the lowest conversion ratio of any team in the opening round of games.

-Oscar Tabarez will be managing his seventh Copa America. He will face Argentina for the 31st time and is the manager with the fourth-most games overseen in this tournament.

Chile have become draw specialists as they look to kick-start their Copa America campaign against Bolivia in Cuiaba on Friday.

La Roja recorded their third consecutive 1-1 draw after Eduardo Vargas' equaliser cancelled out Lionel Messi's superb free-kick against Argentina on Monday.

Copa America champions in 2015 and 2016, Chile have struggled for form since the 2019 tournament, winning just three games (L5, 6D).

Encouragingly for Chile, they have dominated Bolivia in the Copa America amid a run of five wins and a draw in CONMEBOL's showpiece event.

"We must improve the possession of the ball and do it more calmly, not be so direct in some parts of the game because that causes us a lot of wear and tear," Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo said following the draw with Argentina, which included six players that featured in the 2015 Copa triumph over La Albiceleste.

"Without possession of the ball we are a very uncomfortable team and we have to continue to maintain that and continue to be aggressive."

Chile head coach Martin Lasarte, who took charge in February, added: "This team didn't want to be beaten, even though they didn't play well. These players are defiant."

Bolivia's Group A campaign got off to a disappointing start – beaten 3-1 by Paraguay on Monday.

Already missing captain and talisman Marcelo Martins due to coronavirus, Bolivia had teenage debutant Jaume Cuellar sent off while leading as Paraguay capitalised on their numerical advantage in the second half.

Bolivia – the 1963 champions who have not progressed from the group stage since 2015 – are set to be without Marcelo again in a situation the country's all-time leading goalscorer is unhappy with.

Marcelo used social media to hit out at CONMEBOL, which relocated the Copa to Brazil from Argentina and Colombia, despite the country being one of the worst hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

"Thanks to you at CONMEBOL for this," Marcelo said in an Instagram post that was later deleted. "It's all your fault. If one person dies, what are you going to do? What matters to you is only money. Is the player's life worth nothing?"

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chile – Eduardo Vargas

With Alexis Sanchez sidelined for the entire group stage, Vargas is carrying the load up front.

Only Sanchez (46) has scored more international goals for Chile than forward Vargas (39).

Vargas' equaliser against Argentina saw him move level with Gabriel Batistuta in the list of the most goals in Copa history. The 31-year-old is only four goals away from matching record holders Zizinho and Tucho Mendez (17).

Bolivia – Ruben Cordano

The unheralded 22-year-old goalkeeper was on the receiving end of three goals last time out, but he still impressed.

No goalkeeper made more saves than Cordano in the opening round of Copa games – eight, double that of Bravo and Venezuela's Joel Graterol in the top three.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Chile are unbeaten in five games against Bolivia at the Copa America (W4 D1), including a 2-1 victory for La Roja in the last meeting during the 2016 edition. The two nations are playing for the third time in Brazil, winning one game apiece.
- Chile have lost just one of their 13 games versus Bolivia in all competitions (W9 D3). However, they are winless in the last two meetings with Bolivia (L1 D1), their worst winless run in this process.
- Bolivia have scored in six of their previous eight games played in the Copa America. However, they failed to keep a clean sheet in those matches (L8).

Brazil head into Thursday's Copa America clash with Peru with history firmly on their side.

Having taken on hosting duties at the last minute, Brazil started their Copa campaign with a win over Venezuela last time out.

Their second Group B game sees Tite's side take on Peru, who they beat 3-1 in Rio de Janeiro to clinch the trophy back in 2019.

While the Estadio de Maracana hosted the showdown on that occasion, Rio's less illustrious venue – Estadio Nilton Santos – is the location of this meeting, with Brazil boasting a record of seven wins, two draws and just one defeat from their last 10 matches against Peru.

Brazil are on a seven-match unbeaten run in the Copa America, with all of those games having been played on home soil across the last two editions of the competition.

Indeed, their last defeat in the tournament came against Peru back in 2016, though Brazil should be confident of maintaining their winning start.

Peru have only won one of their last nine games in total, though that did come in their prior match against Ecuador – the last team they had previously beaten were Brazil in a friendly in September 2019.

In his pre-match news conference, Brazil coach Tite confirmed there will be at least one change, with Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson coming in for Alisson.

"There are three goalkeepers of very high levels. Two are among the best in the world," said Tite. 

"Weverton has been doing a very high level of work in the Libertadores. We are working, doing the analysis together and in this game we decided for Ederson."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brazil – Neymar

If Brazil are going to defend their crown, they want their poster boy to be on top form. Neymar started well, scoring a penalty and setting up Gabigol's effort in the 3-0 win over Venezuela. He has also completed the most dribbles (six) of any player so far in the competition.

Peru – Gianluca Lapadula

Lapadula seems likely to lead Peru's line in Rio and comes into the game on the back of an impressive performance against Ecuador, in which he created both of the goals for Ricardo Gareca's team.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Peru are the last team that beat Brazil as a visitor in the Copa America – the Incas beat them 3-1 in the 1975 semi-final.
- Since then, Brazil have gone 21 games without a loss at home (13 wins, eight draws).
- Casemiro was the player who recovered the most balls on the first day of the Copa America (15, three more than Juan Cuadrado, his nearest challenger).
- Gareca will lead Peru for a fourth time in the Copa America – he is the coach with the most matches in charge of the national team in the competition (16).
- Brazil had 61.7 per cent possession against Venezuela, registering a pass accuracy of 89.1 per cent (from 550 passes in total). They had 18 attempts compared to three, with seven hitting the target.

Colombia striker Luis Muriel expects Venezuela to be a fierce opponent as Reinaldo Rueda's side look to build on their opening victory in the Copa America.

Edwin Cardona scored the only goal of the game as Colombia kicked off their Group B campaign with a 1-0 win over Ecuador.

Los Cafeteros will be expected to win by a more handsome margin when they meet Venezuela in Goiania.

Colombia have not lost to Venezuela since the 2015 Copa America and face a side still missing key players after their squad was hit by a coronavirus outbreak prior to a 3-0 opening loss to Brazil.

But Muriel was impressed by what he saw from Venezuela even in defeat, and does not anticipate Colombia having it all their own way.

"The game against Ecuador was very difficult, the pitch helped little," Muriel told a media conference. 

"It helped them a lot in the pressure they exert. Venezuela lets you play a little more. 

"Venezuela showed despite all the casualties a great game against Brazil and against us it will be a fierce and hard game. 

"I strive every day to improve, we want to continue building a great team. We are going to seek the victory that will put us in the next phase."

Though Tomas Rincon and Romulo Otero are sidelined having contracted COVID-19, midfielder Yangel Herrera appears poised to return to the fold for Venezuela.

On loan from Manchester City, Herrera should help Venezuela break up play in midfield, having won possession 145 times for Granada last season, more than any other player for the LaLiga side.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Colombia - Miguel Borja

Borja supplied the assist for Cardona's winner and, if he keeps his place up front, should gain significant attention from the Venezuela defence given his goalscoring record in the Copa Libertadores this season.

He has scored six goals in eight games in this season's competition and, though his goals could not help Junior progress from the group stage, he has the firepower to help take Colombia deep into the knockout stages.

Venezuela - Cristian Casseres Jr

Arguably Venezuela's standout player in their defeat to Brazil, Casseres created two chances in the 3-0 loss and was also credited with two good crosses. The New York Red Bulls midfielder could be Venezuela's best creative outlet.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Colombia and Venezuela will meet again in a Copa America after two editions without facing each other (2016 and 2019). The record favours the Cafeteros (4W, 1L, 1D), but the Vinotinto won the last clash (1-0, in Chile 2015).

- Colombia are undefeated in six games without conceding goals in the Copa America (5W 1D). It is their third-longest unbeaten streak in the competition and the second-longest without conceding (eight, between 2001 and 2004).

- Venezuela will play their 10th Copa America match under the leadership of a European coach and will seek its first victory (2D, 7L). Jose Peseiro, Portuguese coach of the Vinotinto, is the third coach from Europe to lead Venezuela in the competition: the other two are Rafael Santana, from Spain, and Ratomir Dujkovic, from the former Yugoslavia.

- Venezuela had the fewest shots on target in the first matchday of the Copa America: in the loss against Brazil they shot at goal just once, through Luis del Pino.

Lionel Messi said Argentina lacked control while bemoaning the state of the pitch in their Copa America draw against Chile.

Messi scored a stunning free-kick in the first half but it was not enough as Chile salvaged a 1-1 draw in the Group A encounter in Rio de Janeiro on Monday.

Superstar captain Messi converted his first free-kick for Argentina since November 2016 – after 1,672 days – after curling his set-piece past Claudio Bravo in the 33rd minute.

Chile star Arturo Vidal was awarded a penalty for a rash challenge from Nicolas Tagliafico after referee Wilmar Roldan checked the pitch-side monitor and although the midfielder's penalty was brilliantly tipped against the crossbar by Emiliano Martinez, Eduardo Vargas nodded in following up approaching the hour mark.

"I think the penalty kick and when they draw gave them peace of mind, they started to handle the ball, we couldn't have it and the game got complicated for us," Messi, who scored his third Copa free-kick, said post-match.

"When we were in advantage we could not sustain the result, the playing field did not help us and we lacked control of the ball and to play faster, which they did when they managed to draw level. I did not see the penalty, but clearly it changed the game."

Argentina – runners-up in 2015 and 2016 – had their best expected goals (xG of 2.82) in a game under head coach Lionel Scaloni in World Cup qualifiers or Copa America, but they scored only one direct free-kick goal.

"We wanted to start winning, it was important to get the victory," Messi said. "We played against a very difficult opponent and now we will do it against Uruguay, another very difficult and even game.

"They are two very tough games to start the cup, that's why we wanted to start winning today."

Chile goalkeeper Bravo added: "[Messi] has a punch that not everyone has, a different precision than the rest.

"In the [World Cup] qualifiers it was my turn to come out victorious and today I had to suffer it, but football is like that and you enjoy when you have great players on the other side and who put difficult challenges on you, as well as my mission is to make things difficult for your opponent.

"I think the essential thing is that today we compete very well and this fills us with enthusiasm for what lies ahead."

Angel Romero scored twice as Paraguay produced a second-half comeback to claim a 3-1 win over a depleted 10-man Bolivia in their opening game at the Copa America.

La Albirroja were favoured to see off Bolivia, who were without three players – including captain and talisman Marcelo Martins after testing positive for coronavirus.

Bolivia, who have only progressed beyond the Copa America group stage once since finishing runners-up in 1997, took a shock early lead from Erwin Saavedra's 10th-minute penalty on Monday.

Paraguay piled on the pressure for no reward in the first half, before Bolivia were reduced to 10 men on the stroke of half-time following Jaume Cuellar's second booking in Goiania, Goias.

The weight of pressure told in the second half as Alejandro Romero levelled before Paraguay team-mate Angel Romero scored a brace to seal the win.

Paraguay flew out of the blocks as Santiago Arzamendia forced an acrobatic save from Bolivia goalkeeper Ruben Cordano inside the first minute, with Angel Romero flashing wide from the ensuing corner.

But Bolivia took the lead, albeit after a lengthy delay as referee Diego Haro consulted VAR, when Diego Bejarano's goal-bound volley hit Arzamendia's outstretched arm, with Saavedra converting from the spot.

Paraguay thought they had the chance to draw level when Haro pointed to the spot again after Cordano hacked down Gabriel Avalos inside the box, but again, La Albirroja were denied by the VAR after another long delay as Romero was offside in the build-up.

Alejandro Romero inexplicably pushed wide from close range in the 43rd minute, before Bolivia teenager Cuellar saw red for a second bookable offence.

Paraguay kept up the pressure after the break, with Alejandro Romero hitting the woodwork, though he equalised via an excellent 62nd-minute volley from outside the box.

Minutes later Paraguay were ahead, with Cordano unable to hold substitute Carlos Gonzalez's header and Angel Romero swooping to force home the loose ball.

Paraguay keeper Antony Silva had to be alert to a 78th-minute Roberto Fernandez strike, before Angel Romero netted his second, slotting home from Avalos' pass.

It was a modest record for a player as magnificent as Lionel Messi: three games, two final defeats, one red card, no goals.

But the Barcelona great's Copa America performances against Chile prior to Monday's curtain-raising clash were not entirely out of keeping with the rest of his Argentina career.

There have been moments of magic, of course, but just 15 goals across 46 Copa America and World Cup appearances ahead of this game. Meanwhile, not since 2007-08 has Messi fallen short of averaging a goal every two games for Barca, let alone one every three.

Even Messi himself could not reasonably argue his international displays have come close to the standard set at club level.

And while World Cup failures will always remain at the forefront of any such discussion – his achievements in contrast to Diego Maradona's one-man show in 1986 – the Copa America has provided its fair share of pain.

The final defeats to Chile in 2015 and 2016 were among three for Messi and four for Argentina since their 14th and most recent title in 1993.

Those two in consecutive years both came courtesy of penalty shoot-outs. Messi scored his spot-kick in the first match but missed the following year, setting his side on their way to another sore setback.

It was fitting then, it seemed, that this latest campaign – surely one of Messi's last – would start against Chile and initially start in much more encouraging fashion.

Neymar had set the standard against Venezuela the previous day.

In front of empty, hushed stands that make it impossible to ignore the influence of politics in football – a popular topic of debate in 2021 – the pace was ponderous until the world's most expensive footballer got to work.

Neymar scored one and created another in a 3-0 Brazil win. Along with five shots, he created seven chances – the most of any Selecao player in a Copa America match since his debut.

It took 33 minutes, in which the absence of an atmosphere again jarred, but Messi rose to that challenge when presented with a free-kick in a central position, dipped over the wall and beyond the grasp of Claudio Bravo.

That was one of seven Messi shots and he played four key passes, too. On paper, this ranked alongside Neymar's efforts.

 

By full-time, though, it was a frustratingly familiar tale, as the supporting cast proved unable to suitably assist their superstar.

Messi's excellence has excused a whole generation of Argentina internationals, absolved of blame because their great number 10 should have been able to win major tournaments alone.

Too many hugely talented players have misfired on the big stage; Lionel Scaloni sent out some past and present examples.

Lautaro Martinez is supposed to be the face of a young, new team. He had 11 goals in 23 prior internationals and should have added to that tally more than once in Rio de Janeiro.

The Inter forward failed to hit the target with any of his three attempts and optimistically appealed for a foul following two of them when he inexplicably missed from point-blank range.

And Martinez's frustration unfortunately came to the fore after 62 minutes when he lunged into an awful challenge on Charles Aranguiz under the nose of the referee and escaped with a booking.

The 23-year-old's evening might have ended early with a red card. Instead, it was cut short by the introduction of Sergio Aguero.

Chile had equalised five minutes prior to Martinez's moment of madness, one of a series of rash attempted tackles punished as a VAR review found Nicolas Tagliafico had made contact with Arturo Vidal in the area.

Vidal took the penalty and Emiliano Martinez turned it onto the crossbar, but Eduardo Vargas was on hand to nod in his 13th Copa America goal – staying three clear of Messi and climbing into the top 10 all-time.

Aguero followed Angel Di Maria onto the pitch as Argentina sought a response. Both players were not so long ago out of the picture under Scaloni, having previously been part of the Messi-led team that repeatedly came up short.

In each Chile final, Di Maria started. Aguero was introduced from the bench in one and in the XI for the other.

As on those occasions, there were no heroics from either on Monday. Di Maria, now 33, had two shots but neither troubled Bravo. Aguero, also 33, was caught offside once.

Messi will be the story if Argentina do not deliver silverware in the coming weeks, just as he will be should they finally get over the hump.

But the same problems persist. When Messi's free-kick set the stage, it was Martinez who could not step up, underwhelming again like too many past Argentina attackers.

If this is to be the tournament in which Messi reaches his promised land, he is going to need some help.

A sublime Lionel Messi free-kick was not enough for Argentina to start the Copa America with a victory as Chile striker Eduardo Vargas salvaged a 1-1 draw.

Argentina had much the better of the first half and mercurial captain Messi put them in front with a brilliant free-kick in the Group B encounter at Estadio Nilton Santos.

Vargas came to Chile's rescue after the break, heading home the rebound after Emiliano Martinez saved Arturo Vidal's penalty.

Nicolas Gonzalez was particularly wasteful as Argentina were unable to secure what would have been a deserved victory in Rio de Janeiro on Monday.

Messi is yet to win a trophy with Argentina following back-to-back runners-up performances at the Copa America in 2015 and 2016, having also fallen short in the 2007 final against Brazil.

Giovani Lo Celso was Chile's chief tormentor in a promising start from the Albiceleste, setting up chances that Lautaro Martinez and Gonzalez were unable to take.

Gonzalez headed over the crossbar after his shot was palmed away by Claudio Bravo and the forward also failed to beat the Chile goalkeeper with a tame finish when the lively Lo Celso sent him clear with an incisive pass.

Messi produced yet another moment of magic to put Argentina in front, though, bending a brilliant free-kick into the top-right corner after 33 minutes.

An unmarked Martinez spurned a glorious chance to add a second when he scuffed a shot wide and Lionel Scaloni's side were made to pay for their profligacy when Chile levelled 12 minutes into the second half.

Vidal was awarded a spot-kick for a rash challenge from Nicolas Tagliafico after referee Wilmar Roldan checked the pitchside monitor and although the midfielder's penalty was brilliantly tipped against the crossbar by Martinez, Vargas nodded in following up.

Bravo palmed away Messi's drive 20 minutes from time and Gonzalez headed over the bar when his skipper presented him with another golden opportunity in a frustrating start for Argentina.

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