Lionel Messi scores brilliant match-winner in Argentina’s 2-1 win over Bosnia & Herzegovina

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A Lionel Messi gem was enough to hand Argentina a 2-1 victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina at The Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday evening.

After a Sead Kolasinic own-goal in the 3rd minute handed Argentina a 1-0 lead, all things were even heading into the second stanza where a beautiful, weaving run by Messi was capped by a calm left-footed finish from 18 yards out.

With a 2-0 lead in hand, Argentina eased off the gas and were punished for it when a sensationally slipped pass by Senad Lulic found Vedad Ibisevic, who cooly finished past Sergio Romero. As B&H pushed for a winner it was Argentina who came closest to scoring again before the final whistle blew handing La Celeste a crucial 2-1 victory to go tops of Group F.

Things began fast when Mensur Mujdza‘s crushing tackle sent Sergio Aguero flying to the turf. Messi’s ensuing free kick from 25 yards out curled in beautifully for Argentina defender Marcos Rojo, who nicked the ball onto the left knee of defender Kolasinic, who could only watch as the ball dribbled into the net.

B&H then settled in with Zvjezdan Misimovic providing some brilliant play-making ability, cutting open the middle of the pitch and finding Izet Hajrovic over the top only for the winger to hesitate and have his effort saved by Romero. A minute later and it was Misimovic again, this time embarrassing Javier Mascherano and earning a free-kick that Miralem Pjanic fired into the wall.

Despite conceding the own-goal, Kolasinac more than made up for it with some sensational defense, giving Pablo Zabaleta and Messi headaches on multiple attacks up the right side. It was an uninspiring performance from Edin Dzeko, who was largely invisible but for a turning 33rd minute strike that flew well over the goal. Eight minutes later and the Dragons came closer, this time through Lulic who’s near post header was sublimely saved by Romero.

Heading into the half-time 1-0 up but under-performing, Argentina needed to shake things up and coach Alejandro Sabella wasted no time doing so, disposing of his five-man backline by removing center-back Hugo Campagnaro in favor of midfielder Fernando Gago and replacing midfielder Maxi Rodriguez with forward Gonzalo Higuain.

With the 4-3-3 formation that Argentina are more familiar with La Celeste caught fire as a 55th minute break saw Messi find Aguero, who mishit his right-footed shot high and wide. By now, though, Argentina was clicking with Messi finding space in the midfield and Higuain, Aguero and Di Maria flying up the pitch.

In the 58th minute it was Hajrovic reeking havoc on Marcos Rojo, juking the left-back before sending in a teasing cross for Lulic that caught Romero off the line only for Federico Fernandez to head away from danger. Two minutes later, it was Argentina’s turn and the improving Messi found Aguero on the right side of the box but his right-footed effort was ripped right into the hands of Begovic.

In the 64th minute Messi spurned an excellent opportunity when he put his left-footed free kick 20 yards over the bar from 30 yards out. Things were looking bleak for the Barcelona sensation but 30 seconds later he proved why he is one of the greatest ever players. Picking up the ball 10 yards in front of midfield Messi dispatched a clever outside-of-the-foot pass that Higuain brilliantly flicked back to La Pulga, who had his sights set on net.

By the time B&H center back Ermin Bicakcic realized it, he stepped up only for Messi to pull the ball left, sending Bicakcic sliding into Besic. With the pathway clear, Messi dispatched a low, carefully placed left-footed strike from 18-yards out that banked off the left post and into the net. The Maracana erupted with a Messi fist-pump clear evidence of a monkey off his back.

Credit to B&H, they didn’t put their heads down and coach Safet Susic went into the most attacking lineup possible, bringing on winger Edin Visca to replace the fantastic Hajrovic, forward Ibisevic for Mensur Mujdza while captain Zvjezdan Misimovic was then removed for Haris Medunjanin.

In the 82nd minute Messi picked the ball up in his defensive third and his 80 yard dribble found Aguero on the right but his cross was snuffed out by a sliding Spahic. Three minutes later, lax defending by Argentina allowed B&H to cut the lead in half. Lulic pushed forward on the dribble and when no one challenged, he slipped a sneaky pass around Fernandez that Ibisevic latched on to and put a subtle touch around Romero.

With six minutes left B&H continued to push forward compelling Argentina to sub Aguero off for Lucas Biglia, adopting a more defensive shape. With The Dragons pushing hard for the equalizer it was La Celeste that enjoyed the better chances with Messi coming closest off the counter in the 93rd minute, only to hit the side netting.

All in all it was a great win for Argentina against a tricky B&H side but one that Sabella will want to see vast improvements upon if his side are to make a deep run in this World Cup.

LINEUPS

Argentina – Romero; Rojo, Garay, F. Fernandez, Campagnaro (Gago 45′), Zabaleta; Di Maria, Mascherano, Rodriguez (Higuain 45′); Messi, Aguero (Biglia 87′).

Goals: Kolasinac, OG (3′) Messi (65′)

Bosnia & Herzegovina – Begovic; Kolasinac, Spahic, Bicakcic, Mujdza (Ibisevic 69′); Besic, Hajrovic (Visca 71′); Lulic, Misimovic (Medunjanin 74′), Pjanic; Dzeko.

Goal: Ibisevic (84′)

MLS at Week 8: Galaxy host Atlanta, NYCFC aims to stay unbeaten out west

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A full weekend of MLS action kicks off on Friday night with two of the Western Conference’s elite, while Saturday and Sunday feature a number of quality matchups.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy have been quite the attraction since the Swede made his move to MLS a few weeks ago, but Sigi Schmid’s side will be in for another early-season test on Saturday when they take on a red-hot Atlanta United.

[ MORE: Sweden not keen on Zlatan’s World Cup return ]

Both sides currently sit in second place in their respective conferences, while Atlanta boasts the second-highest goalscoring total in the league to this point, with 15 goals in six games.

Western Conference leaders Sporting KC have gone unbeaten in their last six matches since their opening day defeat to New York City FC, and Matt Besler and Co. will have another opportunity to put their stamp on the conference with a crucial match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, who sit third in the West.

NYCFC and FC Dallas remain on the only two unbeaten clubs left in 2018, although the latter has been far less convincing in its first five matches.

Patrick Vieira and NYCFC are coming off of a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Atlanta last weekend, and now head west to take on the Portland Timbers.

Meanwhile, Dallas plays host to the Philadelphia Union, who have taken just one win out of their first five games.

Here’s a look at the full slate of matches around MLS in Week 8.

Friday

Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 9 p.m. ET

Saturday

Montreal Impact vs. Los Angeles FC — 1 p.m. ET
Houston Dynamo vs. Toronto FC — 3 p.m. ET
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire — 3:30 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution — 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando City vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 7:30 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids — 9 p.m. ET
LA Galaxy vs. Atlanta United — 10:30 p.m. ET

Sunday

Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United — 4 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. New York City FC — 6 p.m. ET

Atletico defeat leaves Barcelona 1 win from title

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid lost 3-0 at Real Sociedad on Thursday, leaving Barcelona one victory away from clinching the Spanish league title.

Barcelona, which drew 2-2 at Celta Vigo on Tuesday without most of its regular starters, can secure its 25th crown at Deportivo La Coruna on April 29.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Burnley, trails Spurs by five points in UCL race ]

The Catalan club faces Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday.

Barcelona has a 12-point lead over Atletico, with five matches left, and is 15 in front of third-place Real Madrid, which needed a late goal by Cristiano Ronaldo to draw 1-1 with Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.

Another loss for Atletico on Sunday against Real Betis would leave Diego Simeone’s team out of contention for the title because Barcelona holds the head-to-head advantage between the clubs.

Willian Jose shot Sociedad ahead in the 27th minute at the Anoeta Stadium. Juanmi Jimenez made it 2-0 in the 80th after a perfect backheel from Jose before Jimenez scored again with an injury-time header.

It was a third straight win for Sociedad, which stayed 11th in the standings. Atletico hadn’t lost in three consecutive league matches.

GIRONA WINS

Girona ended a four-match winless streak with a 2-1 victory at Alaves, staying in contention for a Europa League spot next season.

Aleix Garcia opened the scoring for Girona in the 59th minute and Cristhian Stuani added a penalty in the 86th, moving the team within one point of seventh-place Sevilla.

Tomas Pina struck in the 90th minute for Alaves, which is 15th.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Leicester 0-0 Southampton: Saints lose chance to gain relegation ground

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Leicester City and Southampton finished scoreless at the King Power Stadium on Thursday, as the latter failed to pick up three critical points in a heated Premier League relegation race.

The best opportunity on the day likely came in the second half when Marc Albrighton‘s brilliant volley was deflected over the crossbar by Saints keeper Alex McCarthy.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Burnley with Moses’ second-half strike ]

Southampton boasted many of its regulars as they prepare to stave off being dropped down to the Championship next season, although Mark Hughes‘ side features in a big FA Cup semifinals clash over the weekend against Chelsea.

Chances were at a minimum in the opening stanza, with Leicester the more dominant of the two sides in attack, although it didn’t amount to much on their various counterattacking opportunities.

Kelechi Iheanacho threatened early on for the Foxes, coming close in the 15th minute with a strike that narrowly missed the far corner. This came briefly after he followed up on his own blocked attempt moments prior.

The Saints now sit four points behind 17th place Swansea City, while Leicester remains in eighth place — trailing Arsenal and the top six by 10 points.

Burnley 1-2 Chelsea: Moses rescues Blues all three points

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With four matches remaining in the Premier League season, Antonio Conte‘s side has everything to play for in the final weeks of the campaign.

[ MORE: Leicester, Southampton finish scoreless at King Power Stadium ]

Chelsea picked up a come-from-behind 2-1 win against Burnley on Thursday afternoon at the Turf Moor behind Victor Moses‘ second-half finish.

Moses was active throughout the match for Chelsea, playing a hand in both goals.

Ashley Barnes pulled a goal back for the Clarets in the 64th minute, but it wasn’t enough for the seventh place side to steal points off the Blues for the second time in 2017/18.

Alvaro Morata’s struggles continued on the day, as the Spanish international had a quality breakaway chance to seal the game early in the second half, but put his right-footed attempt wide of the goal.

The Blues went in front in the 20th minute after Burnley defender Kevin Long put the ball into his own net off of a dangerous cross from Victor Moses on the righthand side of the box.

Olivier Giroud made heavy claims for a penalty in the eighth minute, when the striker went to ground after having been contacted by Long.

The Frenchman started the match paired with Alvaro Morata up front as Antonio Conte looked to rest Eden Hazard and Willian ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup semifinal against Southampton.

The victory for the Blues puts Conte and Co. within five points of Spurs with four matches remaining in the PL campaign. Tottenham currently occupies the fourth Champions League position in England’s top flight.