Argentina charge into Copa quarters

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> An inspired piece of play by substitute Lionel Messi saw Argentina overcame Paraguay 1-0 on Thursday to finish atop Group C.

Updated: July 07, 2007 14:10 IST
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An inspired piece of play by substitute Lionel Messi saw Argentina overcame Paraguay 1-0 on Thursday to finish atop Group C and charge into the Copa America quarterfinals as the only team with a perfect record.

In Thursday's other game, Colombia topped the winless United States 1-0 earlier to salvage some pride after both teams went into the final Group C match already eliminated.

No games are scheduled Friday as the final eight prepare for the quarterfinal matchups beginning Saturday.

With both teams already qualified, Argentine coach Alfio Basile decided to rest several starters. But after a dull first half he yielded to the loud appeals for "Messi, Messi" by the soldout crowd of 37,000 and sent the Barcelona striker on in the 66th minute, replacing Esteban Cambiasso.

The 21-year old phenomenon didn't disappoint, deceiving a Paraguayan defender before sending a centering pass that found Javier Mascherano, who buried a shot to the right of goalkeeper Aldo Bobadilla for Argentina's winning goal in the 78th minute.

Prior to the goal, Carlos Tevez and Rodrigo Palacio also came close to scoring with shots that ricocheted off the woodwork.

With the win, Argentina finishes with nine points and stays in Barquisimeto to receive Peru on Sunday, with injured striker Hernan Crespo the only absentee. Paraguay, with six points, must travel 1,000 kilometers to Maturin to face Mexico, which as a guest to the tournament has been in good form here, including beating five-time World Cup champion Brazil.

Argentina brought its biggest European-based stars to these South American championships in Venezuela, aiming to claim a record 15th Copa title and break the tie with Uruguay for the most championship crowns.

In a rematch of their group matches, host Venezuela plays Uruguay in San Cristobal and Brazil takes on Chile in Puerto La Cruz in the other two quarterfinal matches Saturday.

Venezuela and Uruguay had a scoreless draw in their group game, while Brazil beat Chile.

Earlier, Jaime Castrillon scored with a header in the 14th minute as a mostly second-string Colombia prevailed over the United States to gain some measure of pride before returning home.

Colombia entered this 12-nation tournament with genuine ambitions for the title. But after letting in nine goals in two matches against Argentina and Paraguay, coach Jorge Luis Pinto chose to go with a less experienced squad against the US.

The win allows him to return to Bogota with his head a little higher, but his future as coach of the "cafeteros" may be in doubt according to reports in the Colombian media.

Coming off their Gold Cup championship win over Mexico, American coach Bob Bradley brought an inexperienced squad to Venezuela, looking to test formations ahead of the World Cup qualifiers in spring.

That decision drew criticism from event organizers after the US team scored just two goals at the tournament - one a penalty.

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