An early goal from Lautaro Martinez and a late second from Sergio Aguero gave Argentina a 2-0 win over Qatar on Sunday, a deserved victory that takes them into the Copa America quarter-finals to face Venezuela.
Argentina took the lead after three minutes when an atrocious pass out of defence went straight to Martinez, who made no mistake from 15 meters out.
The first half was an even affair with Martinez and Aguero missing good chances for Argentina and Bassam Alrawi clipping the post from a free kick for the Asian champions.
But even with Lionel Messi looking more spritely than in Argentina’s first two games, it took them until the second half before they were able to seal the points.
With eight minutes remaining Aguero ran on to a through ball and angled a fine drive past the Qatari keeper.
"When we scored the first goal we just needed to keep our calm until the end and we were qualified," Martinez said. "We were playing a good team, we couldn’t make a mess of it."
Argentina’s win, their first after a loss to Colombia and a draw with Paraguay, leaves them in second place in Group B on four points behind group winners Colombia, who beat Paraguay 1-0.
They will now play Venezuela in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, while the other quarter-final ties will only be decided after Monday’s final Group C matches.
"Now we need to stay focused and win the next game and keep progressing," Martinez said.
The top two teams in each group qualify for the knockout stage along with the two best third-placed sides.
Brazil and Venezuela qualified from Group A on Saturday and third place Peru will join them.
Group C will be decided on Monday when Chile play Uruguay and Ecuador take on Japan.
Messi says win over Qatar can give Argentina needed boost
Argentina s 2-0 win over Qatar, their first in a tournament they have yet to set alight, could be the victory they need to kick-start their drive towards the title, Lionel Messi said on Sunday.
Argentina’s win over the Asian champions, thanks to an early goal from Lautaro Martinez and a late strike from Sergio Aguero, has put them into a quarter-final against Venezuela in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.
"We played a good game and we won, and that was what mattered," Messi said. "We needed a game like this to gain some confidence and calm."
"As we play more games the team grows each one and that game was good for that."
Argentina came into the match under fire after losing their opener 2-0 to Colombia and then being held 1-1 by Paraguay.
Too many of their top players have failed to reproduce their club form at international level but they were at least creating chances up front against Qatar, even if they were vulnerable at the back throughout.
The score did not reflect the number of chances Argentina had 17 shots on goal to Qatar s four – but neither did it flatter the Qataris, who matched Argentina for most of the first half before running out of steam.
But while no one should draw too many conclusions from a victory over Qatar, who finished with one point for the tournament, the win sets Argentina up for a run at the title they have not won since 1993.
Coach Lionel Scaloni said he was content with the performance and delighted to still be in with a chance of silverware.
"Of course there are things we can improve on but we’re satisfied," he said.
"We always tried to play football and pressure them high up the pitch. I think the second half was very good.
"The message has to be that as long as we re in the Copa America we need to keep pushing forward."