(Reuters) – Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni considered resting Lionel Messi for Monday’s Copa America clash against Paraguay but in the end good sense prevailed as the Barcelona striker was once again a key man in their 1-0 win.
“The truth is that Messi has played in all our games and so it is very difficult not to rely on him,” Scaloni said after a hard-fought game in which Argentina scored early and then ceded more and more ground to a Paraguay side that could not turn their possession into goals.
“What worries me is the physical condition of the players,” the coach added. “The conditions were not great to play in.”
Messi has been one of Argentina’s most active players in their three Copa games so far.
He has played every minute and as usual never stopped looking for the ball. His 66 touches against Chile in their opener was a team high, as was his 78 against Uruguay along with Rodrigo De Paul.
Against Paraguay only defender Nahuel Molina touched the ball more.
The victory over Paraguay in Brasilia took Argentina through to the quarter-finals with a game to spare and Scaloni admitted the time might be right to rest his star man.
“It’s possible that we will rotate in the next game,” he said of next Monday’s final group game against Bolivia. “Having qualified gives us some peace of mind. Now we can recharge our batteries and our strength.”
Messi got his 147th cap against Paraguay, tying the record held by Javier Mascherano.
The recognition comes at the end of an eventful season for a man who will turn 34 on Thursday.
He began the season opting to stay at Barcelona after saying he wanted to leave.
Exactly where he will be next season is not certain but one thing that is not in doubt is his status at the national side.
Messi has spoken openly about wanting to win a title with Argentina and add an international honour to the myriad baubles he picked up with his club.
Argentina have not won a major title since lifting the Copa America in 1993 and it is the one blank page on his otherwise unblemished CV.
They may fear a resurgent Brazil but they are enjoying a good spell – Monday’s game was their 16th without defeat – and belief the drought may finally break is quietly building.
“We can see that the team is growing and taking shape,” said defender German Pezzella. “With the squad and the players we have we can be there or thereabouts.”
(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Robert Birsel)