Argentina beat Paraguay, top Group C

Barquisimeto, July 6:

An inspired piece of play by substitute Lionel Messi saw Argentina overcame Paraguay 1-0 to finish atop Group C and charge into the Copa America quarter-finals as the only team with a perfect record.

Colombia topped winless United States 1-0 to salvage some pride after both teams went into the final Group C match already eliminated.

With both teams already qualified, Argentine coach Alfio Basile decided to rest several starters. But after a dull first half he yielded to the loud appeals for “Messi, Messi” by the soldout crowd of 37,000 and sent the Barcelona striker on in the 66th minute, replacing Esteban Cambiasso.

The 21-year old phenomenon didn’t disappoint, deceiving a Paraguayan defender before sending a centering pass that found Javier Mascherano, who buried a shot to the right of goalkeeper Aldo Bobadilla for Argentina’s winning goal in the 78th minute.

Prior to the goal, Carlos Tevez and Rodrigo Palacio also came close to scoring with shots that ricocheted off the woodwork.

Argentina finished with nine points and stayed in Barquisimeto to receive Peru on Sunday, with injured striker Hernan Crespo the only absentee.

Paraguay, with six points, must travel to Maturin to face Mexico, which as a guest to the tournament have been in good form here, including win over five-time World Cup champions Brazil.

Argentina brought their biggest European-based stars to these South American championships in Venezuela, aiming to claim a record 15th Copa title and break the tie with Uruguay for the most championship crowns.

In a rematch of their group matches, hosts Venezuela play Uruguay and Brazil take on Chile in the other two quarter-final matches on Saturday.

Earlier, Jaime Castrillon scored with a header in the 14th minute as a mostly second-string Colombia prevailed over the US.