Masterful Lionel Messi inspired Argentina to a hard-fought 1-0 win over a gutsy Australia Sunday, with Napoli's Ezequiel Lavezzi scoring the decisive goal following waves of pressure.
The Barcelona superstar was the driving force as Argentina look to win back-to-back Olympic gold, but it wasn't easy against an Australian defence that stood firm and soaked up attack after attack.
Lavezzi made the breakthrough with 14 minutes left after a slick move involving Messi, captain Juan Riquelme and Benfica's Angel Di Maria that ended with the Napoli man volleying home with the side of his foot.
It was just reward for Argentina who now have two wins out of two in Group A following their narrow 2-1 victory the Ivory Coast last Thursday.
Australia, whose men have never missed an Olympics since football was opened to professionals in 1988, now have one loss and one draw.
Messi had a glorious chance to put his team in front after seven minutes when he found himself unmarked in the box but skied over the bar as a defender slid in to challenge him.
Four minutes later Australian goalkeeper Adam Federici pulled off a flying one-handed save to deny Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano who let rip from 30 yards.
Messi worked his magic once again soon after when he dribbled through the defence and fired a low drive that Reading 'keeper Federici did well to collect.
But the Australians held firm and even threatened at the other end, with Melbourne Victory striker Archie Thompson blowing a great chance with seven minutes left in the half, firing wildly wide after a flowing move.
Lavezzi hit the side netting just before the break then Messi blazed wide, with Argentina's nine shots to Australia's one telling the story of the first 45 minutes.
Riquelme put Australia under pressure immediately following the restart with Federici failing to cleanly collect his long-range drive before the defence cleared up the mess.
Messi's probing runs were a constant danger and he almost forced the breakthrough in the 72nd minute when he unleashed a left foot rocket that sailed over before Lavezzi made certain of the points.
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