Vina del Mar (Chile), June 21:
Star striker Lionel Messi failed to mark his 100th international cap with a goal as Argentina laboured to a lacklustre 1-0 victory over Jamaica in Copa America.
The result on Saturday was still enough to ensure Argentina finished on top of Group B with seven points from their three games, but was a good deal less convincing than many had hoped and expected.
Gerardo Martino’s men hit the front on 11 minutes when Gonzalo Higuain produced a clinical spin and finish into the bottom corner.
That looked likely to open the floodgates but, although both Higuain and Angel Di Maria struck the crossbar, they could not breach Jamaica’s dogged rearguard again.
Jamaica had already been eliminated by Uruguay’s draw with Paraguay earlier in the day, but certainly held their own in Viña del Mar and arguably finished the game the stronger of the two teams.
Martino – watching from the stands after receiving a one-match ban for stepping on the field against Uruguay – rested Argentina regulars Sergio Aguero and Nicolas Otamendi and drafted in Higuain and Martin Demichelis.
Higuaín was a constant threat early and he made the most of his start up front with a strike in the 11th minute – his first international goal since October last year.
Di Maria rolled the ball into the penalty area and the Napoli forward held off two defenders before turning and shooting low into the corner of the net to end a run of seven matches without a goal for Argentina.
Higuain almost doubled his tally with a looped effort over the onrushing Miller in the 22nd minute, having been played in by Lucas Biglia, but the his shot bounced off the top of the crossbar.
Jamaica struggled to make it out of their own half for much of the first 45 minutes – with Argentina controlling 82 per cent of possession – but they somehow made it to the interval only trailing 1-0, despite further chances to centurion Messi and Higuaín, while Di Maria was denied by a goal-line clearance and Miller.
The crossbar came to Jamaica’s rescue again seven minutes into the second half, after Di Maria rattled the woodwork from the edge of the area, with Miller left watching helplessly.
Di Maria was in the thick of the action shortly after, teeing up Higuain, who passed the ball to Roberto Pereyra but the substitute scuffed his shot wide.
Jamaica, surprisingly, finished the stronger of the two teams but were unable to breach Argentina’s defence as they exited the tournament without a point and a goal.
But in bad news for Martino’s men, Pablo Zabaleta was shown a late yellow card and will miss their quarter-final. (IANS)