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′)

Liga MX wrap: Pachuca earns first win, Leon stays unbeaten

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All of Saturday’s action from around Mexico’s top flight…

Pachuca 3-1 Lobos BUAP

A strong first-half push from the hosts was all Pachuca needed on Saturday night to earn their first victory of the 2018 Clausura season. Angel Sagal brought the home side in front after just 10 minutes off of a near-post header, before Pachuca’s lead soon doubled 14 minutes later from the penalty spot when strike Franco Jara converted on the dead-ball attempt.

Just prior to halftime, Pachuca was out to a 3-0 advantage when 20-year-old outside back Erick Aguirre tallied his first goal for the club.

Last-place side Lobos got on the board three minutes into the second stanza via a finish from Heriberto Olvera, however, it wasn’t enough to provide anything more than a consolation for the visiting side.

Necaxa 1-3 Chivas Guadalajara

Mexican international Alan Pulido made it a dream start for the visitors from Guadalajara at the Estadio Victoria, however, that lead was cancelled out in first-half stoppage time after Carlos Gonzalez leveled the match up at 1-1.

The difference proved to be with 25 minutes left to play, when a goalkeeping error by Marcelo Barovero allowed Chivas to regain possession inside the Necaxa penalty area, before Ronaldo Cisneros tapped home the winner.

Then, a third goal came just prior to the end of regulation when Edwin Hernandez killed the game off for Matias Almeyda’s men, who also earned their first victory of the Clausura season.

Rest of Saturday’s Liga MX action

Cruz Azul 0-0 Club Leon
Queretaro 0-0 Tigres UANL
Monterrey 0-0 Club Tijuana

Sunday’s matches

UNAM vs. Club America — 1 p.m. ET
Santos Laguna vs. Morelia — 7 p.m. ET

The 2 Robbies: Alexis/Mkhitaryan transfer saga and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap all the key stories from the latest Premier League Saturday fixtures including Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Newcastle (0:20), Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton (10:15) and the latest on the Alexis Sanchez/Henrikh Mkhitaryan saga after wins for Arsenal and Manchester United (19:00). Plus, a closer look at the bottom of the table and thoughts go out to James McCarthy after his serious injury against West Brom (29:00).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Video: Stoke’s Imbula scores stunner on loan at Toulouse

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Stoke City supporters know the name Giannelli Imbula, and perhaps they’ll be clamoring for the Frenchman to return to the bet365 Stadium if he can score more goals like this.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious; Gunners thrash Palace ]

The holding midfielder is currently on loan with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse, and for the first time this season, Imbula opened his goalscoring account in some fashion.

Right on half-hour mark, Imbula unleashed a left-footed strike from nearly 40 yards out to give Toulouse the lead over Montpellier (below).

Imbula joined Stoke during the 2015/16 PL season, and has made 26 appearances for the Potters in his time with the club, prior to his loan to France.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.