Messi bags late winner as Argentina beats Portugal

Written by: Pti
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London, Feb 10 (AP) Lionel Messi scored a last-minutepenalty to give Argentina a dramatic 2-1 victory over Portugalwhile France maintained its renaissance under coach LaurentBlanc with a 1-0 win over five-time world champion Brazil onWednesday.

Cristiano Ronaldo looked to have earned Portugal a drawin Geneva with a 21st-minute equalizer but the Real Madridforward was upstaged by his Barcelona rival, who convertedfrom the spot with seconds remaining.

Karim Benzema was France''s matchwinner in Paris, the RealMadrid striker scoring in the 54th minute after good build-upplay by Jeremy Menez. Brazil was down to 10 men by that stagefollowing the sending-off of Hernanes.

In other high-profile international friendlies,Manchester City winger David Silva scored an 86th-minutewinner in Spain''s 1-0 victory over Colombia to end the team''spoor recent run of results, Italy drew 1-1 in Germany andEngland beat Denmark 2-1.

Messi and Ronaldo _ who both play their club football inSpain and are arguably the world''s leading two players _ werealways going to hog the limelight in the first match betweenArgentina and Portugal since 1972.

Messi had the last laugh, tucking away his penalty forhis 16th international goal after Javier Pastore was adjudgedto have been fouled.

"We always enjoy seeing two great players on the samefield," Argentina coach Sergio Batista said. "I liked both ofthem tonight. Lionel was at a higher level."

Argentina went ahead in the 14th when Madrid winger Angeldi Maria ran onto a pass by Messi to lift a finish overadvancing goalkeeper Eduardo, but Ronaldo leveled by slidinghome seven minutes later after Hugo Almeida had flicked theball on.

The France-Brazil match at the Stade de France was arepeat of the 1998 World Cup final, which the French won 3-0,and the hosts deservedly got the better of their SouthAmerican opponents again 11 years on.

France, which claimed a fifth straight win and built onthe 2-1 away victory over England in November, made the mostof the numerical advantage given to the team by Hernanes'' redcard, brandished to the midfielder for a dangerous tackle onBenzema.

The striker got back to his feet to lead the Frenchcharge, squandering a host of chances except for the one thatbrought France victory.

Menez went past two players and crossed the ball forBenzema to tap in for his 12th goal in 33 internationals. More(AP) AT

Benzema also brought two great saves out of Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar while the visitors'' best chance for anequalizer came when substitute Hulk saw a shot pushed away byhome goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

"The wins against England and Brazil should give us a lotmore confidence individually and collectively," Blanc said. "Ihope we can use it in the future for the important (2012European Championship) qualifiers coming up."

Spain was winless in its last three friendly games goinginto the international against Colombia, its most recent matchbeing a 4-0 thrashing by Iberian neighbor Portugal.

The world and European champions struggled to keep upwith the visitors at times at Madrid''s Santiago BernabeuStadium but snatched a morale-boosting victory when Silvaturned in a cross right winger Jesus Navas.

Germany and Italy were playing in Dortmund, the venue oftheir last meeting when the Italians won 2-0 after extra timein the semifinal of the 2006 World Cup.

The Germans were heading toward avenging that loss whenMiroslav Klose scored in the 17th minute, latching onto across by Bayern Munich midfielder Thomas Mueller.

Giuseppe Rossi grabbed a draw for Italy in the 81st,however, when the Villarreal striker got away from PerMertesacker and beat goalkeeper Manuel Neuer at the secondattempt.

Ashley Young came off the bench to grab England''s68th-minute winner in Copenhagen, becoming the second AstonVilla forward to score after Darren Bent had canceled out theopener netted by Denmark defender Daniel Agger in the eighth.

Wesley Sneijder, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Dirk Kuyt werethe goalscorers for the Netherlands in a 3-1 victory overAustria while the night''s most surprising result sawLuxembourg _ ranked 131st in the world rankings _ upset20th-ranked Slovakia 2-1. (AP) AT

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