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Messi hits last warm-up goal for Argentina
 
 
 
Messi hits last warm-up goal for Argentina

LA PLATA - Substitute Lionel Messi scored his 38th goal for Argentina as they breezed past Slovenia 2-0 in their final World Cup warm-up on Saturday. Messi, his country's second highest scorer after Gabriel Batistuta, had not found the net in an international since a 5-2 qualifying win over Paraguay in Asuncion in September. Argentina's captain began the match on the bench along with other key players like Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, with coach Alejandro Sabella fearful of his squad being caught up in the spate of injuries affecting other World Cup finalists.
Sabella used the friendly at the Estadio Unico to test an alternative tactical plan with three at the back and five across the middle before changing things in the second half. Winger Ricky Alvarez opened the scoring in the 12th minute with a low left-foot shot from the edge of the box but two minutes later midfielder Lucas Biglia came off after receiving a knock and was replaced by Hugo Campagnaro.
In the 76th minute Di Maria lobbed the ball from the edge of the box to the left where Aguero headed it down to Messi, who had come on for Alvarez in the 57th, and he dinked it between two defenders and the goalkeeper. "Now the hour of truth has come, the friendlies are over and we're going to Brazil full of desire," Messi told reporters after winning his 86th cap. "We've managed to be a united and very strong squad and we did that as Alejandro wanted. We're more together than ever because of the dream we all have."
Villa's brace lifts Spain over El Salvador: David Villa scored twice as Spain defeated El Salvador 2-0 on Saturday in their final World Cup warm-up match before they launch the defence of their title in Brazil. The Atletico Madrid striker netted a header in the 60th minute and added the clincher in the 87th minute, producing his 57th and 58th career goals for the Spanish national side. "We know that in small spaces he is one of the best strikers in the world," said Spain manager Vicente del Bosque. The Spaniards kick-off their World Cup Group B campaign on Friday against the Netherlands in a rematch of the stormy 2010 final they won in South Africa. Spain's other first round opponents are Chile and Australia.
"We still have days to fine tune and work and I believe that we are prepared to start," Villa said. Villa opened the scoring after a pass to Sergio Ramos pulled Salvadoran goalkeeper Derby Carrillo to his left and away from the posts. Ramos headed the ball back into the heart of the penalty area and Villa nodded it into the unguarded goal. Villa, who is set to play in Australia later this year before joining a new Major League soccer team in New York next year, made sure of the win three minutes from time. "They were disciplined. Tactically they played well," del Bosque said. "They made it difficult for us to impose our will on the game."
Stalemate as England held by Honduras: England manager Roy Hodgson breathed a sigh of relief after his team emerged unscathed from a bruising goalless draw with Honduras on Saturday. A match interrupted by a lightning storm also saw plenty of sparks on the pitch with a number of full-blooded challenges that would have given Hodgson some anxious moments. Honduras had Brayan Beckeles sent off in the 66th minute for a second bookable offence but will take heart from a battling display and a clean sheet after losing their previous two warm-up games 4-2 to Israel and 2-0 to Turkey. England created several openings but failed to take advantage with Daniel Sturridge the main culprit but Hodgson was now looking forward to getting down to the main business at hand. "It's time for the real thing now. Everyone is fit, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is making progress and I think he will make the tournament," Hodgson said of the injured Arsenal midfielder. "Honduras were quite physical and it was one of the most frustrating games I have been involved in for a long time," he said. "I thought the tempo of our play and effort to score in the second half was commendable. I will take the draw and take the fact we got away without any injuries. We go to Brazil in the right frame of mind," he said.
USA beat Nigeria 2-1 in Brazil tune-up: Jozy Altidore broke his goalscoring drought as the United States beat Nigeria 2-1 on Saturday in the Americans' final World Cup warm-up on US soil before heading to Brazil. Sunderland's much-maligned striker -- without a goal in 2014 -- netted in the 32nd and 68th minutes as Jurgen Klinsmann's men made it a hat-trick of wins after victories over Azerbaijan and Turkey in their "Send-Off Series." "It took us awhile to get into the game," Altidore said. "But after 25 minutes we started playing better. "Look, we can always do better, but I thought we created enough chances tonight." It was a fitting final dress rehearsal for the American squad and a confidence-boosting game for Altidore, who seemed to have rediscovered his scoring touch at EverBank Field.
Belgium head to Brazil on a high:  A late Dries Mertens goal gave Belgium a 1-0 victory over Tunisia in their final World Cup warmup friendly on Saturday, ensuring they go to Brazil on a high note after a match temporarily halted by hail. The home side dominated possession, but for much of the encounter they barely tested Tunisia's keeper and had only a few tame shots and a couple of missed half-chances even after the visitors had a man sent off with almost half an hour to play. Only in the 89th minute did substitute Nacer Chadli find Mertens in space in the penalty area and he calmly stroked it in with his right foot.

 
 
on epaper page 16
 
 
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