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THURSDAY, 24 APR 2014
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Messi delivers mixed bag as Argentina win
Reuters
Messi celebrates his goal.
Messi celebrates his goal.
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LONDON: Lionel Messi scored and missed a penalty in Argentina’s 3-1 win in Germany and Belgium stunned Netherlands 4-2 as a flurry of new coaches and debutants cut their international teeth in friendlies Wednesday.

With 2014 World Cup qualifying games approaching fast in September, Didier Deschamps had a dull start as France coach with a 0-0 stalemate against Uruguay and Fabio Capello’s first game in charge of Russia ended in a 1-1 draw with Ivory Coast.

World and European champion Spain, playing a surprisingly strong side, cantered to a 2-1 win in Puerto Rico after goals just before the break from Santi Cazorla and Cesc Fabregas, although Juanfran limped off injured.

England got a modicum of revenge on Italy for their Euro 2012 defeat with a 2-1 victory in Berne thanks to a cracking Jermain Defoe winner and Brazil forgot their Olympic final loss with a 3-0 win in Sweden, Alexandre Pato grabbing a late brace.

Portugal beat Panama 2-0 with Cristiano Ronaldo bagging a fine second.

Louis van Gaal endured a depressing return to the Dutch dugout as the World Cup runners-up, who flopped at Euro 2012 leading Bert van Marwijk to quit, came from behind to lead, only to lose to neighbors Belgium in Brussels.

“The foul on Nigel de Jong [for Belgium’s second] was crucial as we were in control and not only conceded the equalizer but also allowed Belgium back in the match,” van Gaal said.

Marc Wilmots enjoyed the early and last part of his first permanent match in charge as his Belgian side, who missed out on Euro 2012 but are packed with emerging talent, went ahead through Christian Benteke.

Luciano Narsingh and Klaas Jan Huntelaar netted after the break to boost van Gaal, only for Dries Mertens, Romelu Lukaku and Jan Vertonghen to seal a famous Belgian victory.

Tough taskmaster van Gaal, who was last Netherlands coach in 2002, must now gee up the Oranje for a Sept. 7 World Cup Group D qualifier at home to Turkey, who lost 2-0 in Austria.

The August friendlies, taking place before many European leagues have started, are much maligned by club coaches and they will be glad they are being done away with in coming years.

A number of leading players pulled out of the squads because of minor niggles, underlining the friendlies’ lack of worth, while there was little enthusiasm in some of the stands with England’s game against Italy in Berne half full.

The reason for playing the match in neutral Switzerland will be beyond most supporters but coaches Cesare Prandelli and Roy Hodgson had the chance to check out some youngsters.

Italy, who beat England on penalties in the Euro 2012 quarterfinals before losing to Spain in the final, handed debuts to strikers Mattia Destro and Stephan el-Shaarawy but it was old hand Daniele De Rossi who nodded in on 15 minutes.

England goalkeeper Jack Butland, who has never played in the Premier League, could have done better on his first cap but was relieved on 27 minutes when Phil Jagielka netted his first international goal with a diving header, again from a corner.

Defoe then bent in a superb winner 10 minutes from time.

Former England coach Capello was happy with Russia’s draw but perplexed by hit-and-miss forward Andrei Arshavin being booed by his own fans when coming on as a substitute.

“I was unpleasantly surprised to see fans whistling Arshavin. I just don’t understand that,” the Italian said. “We lost concentration because of that and soon conceded a goal.”

In Frankfurt, Messi missed a first-half penalty but made amends with a superb second-half goal.

An own goal by Sami Khedira put the visitors ahead, Messi swept home the second and Angel Di Maria blasted in the third.

Germany, whose consolation came from Benedikt Hoewedes, played for nearly an hour with 10 men after goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler was sent off after a foul for the missed penalty.

South American rivals Brazil, who like Argentina are in the middle of their World Cup qualifying campaign, had an equally morale-boosting victory for coach Mano Menezes after the shock of losing the under-23 Olympic final to Mexico Saturday.

With Pele watching from the stands in the final international at Stockholm’s Rasunda stadium, Leandro Damiao gave Brazil the first-half lead before substitute Pato nodded in on 85 minutes and then converted a penalty despite slipping.

African champions Zambia lost 2-1 to South Korea, Japan drew 1-1 with Venezuela, China drew 1-1 with Ghana, Scotland beat Australia 3-1 and Serbia drew 0-0 with Ireland.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 17, 2012, on page 15.
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