Lionel Messi scored a superb individual goal as Argentina opened their 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign with a 2-1 win over debutants Bosnia-Herzegovina.
After a fairly subdued performance the Barcelona star lit up the Maracana in trademark style on 65 minutes, gliding past a couple of defenders on the edge of the penalty area before finishing exquisitely off the post - breaking his eight-year drought at the finals.
The Argentine captain’s earlier free-kick also created the first goal of the evening, which bounced in off the shin of Bosnia defender Sead Kolasinac after just three minutes, before substitute Vedad Ibisevic pulled one back to set up a tense finish later on.
La Liga featured very prominently in the opening match of Group F, with a total of 11 players past and present involved including current Barca duo Messi and Javier Mascherano, as well as Real Madrid winger Angel Di Maria.
Three of Alex Sabella’s back five had Spanish connections with former Getafe loanee Federico Fernandez playing the full 90 minutes, along with ex-Real and Espanyol men Ezequiel Garay and Pablo Zabaleta respectively.
Ex-Atletico Madrid forward Sergio Agüero partnered Messi up top for 87 minutes, while former Real striker Gonzalo Higuain replaced another former Rojiblanco Maxi Rodriguez at half-time.
Another Bernebau old boy Fernando Gago also made an entrance at the break, while former Sevilla defender Emir Spahic captained the Bosnians and was booked.
It was a very emotional occasion for the Europeans who were making their first appearance at the finals since becoming a member of FIFA in 1996. Many of their players had moved away from their homeland during the Bulkan war, and representing their nation on the world's greatest stage symbolised an amazing turn of fortunes.
They fell behind though with just two minutes and 10 seconds on the clock. Messi’s free-kick from the left-hand side glanced off a head in the area, before ricocheting beyond Asmir Begovic via the shin of the static Kolasinac.
Safet Susic’s men dusted themselves off though and fought back in search of the equaliser, with Sergio Romero reacting well in the Argentina goal to deny Senad Lulic’s header. They arguably had the better of the remainder of the half, with the South American big names failing to fire on all cylinders.
Sabella sent on Higuain at half-time to support Messi and it proved to be a good move as after creating a couple of missed chances for Aguero, the world’s biggest name made it 2-0 as he left a couple of defenders for dead before sliding the ball home via the post – his first goal at the finals for eight years.
The two-time winners spurned chances to put the game to bed and substitute Ibisevic turned up the heat when he equalised on 84 minutes, with a cute finish from a tight angle through the legs of Romero.
The first-timers gallantly pushed for the equaliser but it just eluded them in the end, they can certainly hold their heads high for a very positive performance in Rio’s opening match.
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