Lionel Messi’s goal leads Argentina past Ronaldo’s Portugal, 2-1
France defeats Brazil, 1-0, on a day of international friendly games in which England, the Netherlands and Spain also win.
There was only one logical conclusion likely Wednesday, when the world’s most expensive soccer player came up against the world’s best soccer player.
Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo once again found himself in Lionel Messi’s shadow.
Messi, the Argentine sensation and two-time FIFA world player of the year, scored a last-minute penalty kick to give Argentina a 2-1 victory over Ronaldo’s Portugal in Geneva.
The match was one of several dozen international friendly encounters Wednesday, with England, France, the Netherlands and Spain also earning victories and Italy grabbing a tie with Germany on a late goal by American-born Giuseppe Rossi.
But it was the match in Geneva that stole attention from Brazil’s loss to France in Paris.
Touted as a showdown between Ronaldo and Messi as much as a game between the world’s fifth- and eighth-ranked teams, the match lived up to its billing.
Messi has scored 24 goals for first-place Barcelona in the Spanish league this season and Ronaldo has scored 24 goals for second-place Real Madrid. As expected, both got on the Swiss scoreboard.
But it was Angel Di Maria, scorer of the goal that won Argentina the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, who tallied the opening goal in Switzerland, knocking in a pass from Messi inside the first 15 minutes.
Ronaldo tied it within seven minutes, however, and the match appeared headed for a tie when Messi slotted in the game-winner in the dying seconds after a foul on Juan Manuel Martinez.
“It was a useful [match] to prepare for the Copa America, and it helps to win,” said Javier Zanetti, who made his national-record 139th appearance for Argentina.
Argentina will stage the Copa America, or South American championship, from July 1-24, and it already appears to be in much better shape for the tournament than rival Brazil.
Having been beaten, 1-0, by Argentina in a friendly in Doha, Qatar, in November, the Brazilians managed to lose by the same score Wednesday at the Stade de France, site of their loss to the Zinedine Zidane-inspired French in the 1998 World Cup final.
Ronaldo’s Real Madrid teammate Karim Benzema scored the decisive goal, and he could have had at least two more but for excellent saves by Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
Benzema enjoyed a superb match, as did teammates Jeremy Menez, who provided the pinpoint pass from which Benzema scored, and central defenders Adil Rami and — especially — Philippe Mexes.
France has won five in a row, including victories against England and Brazil, as it recovers from its disastrous World Cup showing last summer. Brazil, which did not play badly, was hurt by the dismissal of midfielder Hernanes for a blatant high-kick foul on Benzema five minutes before halftime.
“Obviously, playing with 11 men against 10 made things easier, but I liked what I saw,” France Coach Laurent Blanc said.
Meanwhile, Spain, which has looked anything but a world champion since winning the title in South Africa last summer, once again looked ordinary Wednesday.
After a 4-1 drubbing by Argentina and an even more humiliating 4-0 loss to Portugal, the Spanish, ranked No. 1 in the world, were expected to easily overcome Colombia, ranked 50th, in Madrid.
But it was left to David Silva to spare Spain’s blushes when he found the back of the net off a Jesus Nava cross four minutes from the end for a 1-0 win.
Colombia Coach Hernan Dario Gomez provided the most illuminating quote of the day when he made reference to Spain’s possession-oriented passing game.
“We suffered from fatigue toward the end as it is very tiring playing football without the ball,” Gomez said.
Elsewhere, England saw enough of the ball in Copenhagen to come from behind and defeat Denmark, 2-1, on goals by the Aston Villa duo of Darren Bent and Ashley Young. It was England’s first win on Danish soil since 1978.
In Dortmund, where Italy shattered host nation Germany’s hopes with a victory in an epic World Cup semifinal in 2006, the Italians again spoiled the party.
After Miroslav Klose had scored his 59th goal in 106 games for Germany — leaving him nine goals shy of Gerd Mueller’s all-time national record — Germany appeared on course for its first victory over Italy in 16 years.
But New Jersey’s Rossi, who five years ago opted to play for Italy rather than the U.S., put an end to that idea, knocking in the rebound of his own shot off a pass from teammate Daniele de Rossi nine minutes from the end.
Italy gave Brazilian-born midfielder Thiago Motta his debut, FIFA approving his eligibility even though he had represented Brazil at the under-23 level.
Said Motta: “The national anthem? I know it, but I don’t know how to sing it.”
Finally, the Dutch, World Cup 2010 runners-up, rolled over Austria, 3-1, in Eindhoven; the Netherlands remains unbeaten in seven games since losing the World Cup final. Wesley Sneijder, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Dirk Kuyt scored for the winners.
Huntelaar’s goal was his 10th in the last six matches for Holland, while Sneijder’s astonishing volley was easily the best goal of the day.
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