Lionel Messi scored on his return from international retirement as Argentina beat Uruguay 1-0 to go top of the South American World Cup qualifying group.
The Barcelona forward decided to stop playing for his country in June, but reversed the decision two months later.
“Lio: Thanks for so much, sorry for so little” read a banner hanging from the centre of the stands in Mendoza, directly across from the television cameras and the tunnel where the players entered the pitch. It had been there for at least two-and-a-half hours by the time the match kicked off. The “so little” presumably referred to the amount of support many Messi fans feel he has been given — or hasn’t — by the country as a whole, but Mendoza has been vocal in its support throughout the national team’s brief stay in the city.
When the team bus arrived from the city airport on Wednesday night, fans blocked Avenida Belgrano in the city centre to welcome the players to their hotel. On Thursday, a sizeable group of fans continued to stand outside the hotel throughout the day hoping for a glimpse of their idols, and no name was chanted more frequently or loudly than the Barcelona and Albiceleste’s No.10’s. When the lineups were announced before the match, he inevitably received the loudest applause and cheers from the fans.
Throughout the match, the excitement every time he got on the ball was palpable and it seemed to spur on Messi. His goal after 42 minutes brought a roar that almost lifted the roof off the only stand of the stadium that has one. If the fans needed to make up for lost time in their relationship with Messi, this was a fine opportunity to do it and one well-taken by the Argentina supporters in attendance.
Brazil remain in fifth place, outside the automatic qualification spots, despite their 3-0 win over Ecuador.
Manchester City’s summer signing Gabriel Jesus, 19, scored twice on his debut. with Neymar netting the opener.
Brazil have never failed to qualify for a World Cup and are only two points behind Argentina with more than half of the qualifying campaign to go.
A top-four finish would secure automatic qualification for Russia 2018, with fifth place securing a two-legged play-off with a team from Oceania – either New Zealand, New Caledonia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tahiti.
Ecuador’s defeat saw them slip from second to fourth following Colombia’s 2-0 victory over Venezuela – with Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez scoring the first and assisting in the second for Los Cafeteros.
Peru, the 2015 Copa America semi-finalists, are eighth of nine teams and have only one victory from seven qualifying matches after losing 2-0 away to Bolivia.
In the night’s other match, Paraguay beat Chile 2-1 and moved above them into sixth, four points behind Argentina.
— AM550LaPrimera (@AM550LaPrimera) September 2, 2016