SANTIAGO DEL ESTERO – Lionel Messi scored a penalty but Argentina missed out on the chance to take over the top spot in South American World Cup qualifying from rivals Brazil after a 1-1 draw with Chile on Thursday -June 3.
Messi also clipped the woodwork and forced three impressive saves out of Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo but Alexis Sanchez earned the dogged visitors a point in Santiago del Estero.
The draw leaves Argentina a point behind Brazil, the only remaining side with a perfect qualifying record, who host Ecuador on Friday.
Chile are down in sixth, still two points off the qualification places having won only one of their five matches so far.
Argentina captain Messi said he was happy with the result, despite failing to win.
“The team had a good dynamic, it wasn’t easy playing again after so much time,” he said. It was more than six months since the last round of qualifiers after two match days were postponed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He added: “It was a special match given it was the first without Diego.”
Diego Maradona, the legendary 1986 World Cup-winning captain, had died in November.
Sanchez ends Argentina jinx
The visitors, who were missing veteran midfielder Arturo Vidal – hospitalised with Covid-19 – had the first clear sight of goal on 15 minutes but Eduardo Vargas fizzed a low effort narrowly wide from 20 metres.
Argentina were on top, though, and the hosts were awarded a penalty following a VAR check when Guillermo Maripan recklessly brought down Lautaro Martinez in the box.
Messi casually rolled the ball low to the left of former Barcelona and Manchester City ‘keeper Bravo, who dived the wrong way on 24 minutes.
The lead lasted only 12 minutes before Inter Milan forward Sanchez tapped home into an empty net from four metres out after a stretching Gary Medel turned Charles Aranguiz’s free kick back across goal.
“I was missing a goal against Argentina, I’d never scored one before so I’m very happy,” Sanchez said after the game.
In first-half injury time, Messi came close to restoring Argentina’s advantage with a free kick from 20 metres that was heading for the top corner until Bravo leapt to tip the ball away one-handed.
The hosts continued to carve out the better opportunities in the second period but Bravo saved comfortably from Angel di Maria and Martinez.
At the other end, Sanchez fired over the bar with a long-range free kick.
His Inter team-mate Martinez was a livewire in the box and lashed a shot wide before coming inches from turning in a devilish cross into the danger zone.