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Lionel Messi blames Houston pitch for toothless Argentina display

The former Barcelona star looked to be struggling with a thigh injury against Ecuador

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi joined in the criticism of the pitches in the United States for the Copa America, blaming the surface in Houston for Argentina’s failure to make more inroads against Ecuador.

The world champions required a penalty shootout – in which Messi missed – to advance to the semi-finals after a 1-1 draw in regulation.

Manchester United defender Lisandro Martinez opened the scoring for Argentina but Kevin Rodriguez equalized in second-half injury time.

Argentina were some way short of their best, with Messi unusually quiet. The Inter Miami superstar had just 32 touches – his fewest in a game for Argentina in 13 years.

Messi said: “We knew it was going to be a game like that, intense, hard fought. 

“They have very good players, and it was a very hard game. Ecuador is a dynamic, strong team, and then, as we have been saying during the Copa, the pitch does not allow you to play as you want, and that makes it easier for the defending team.

“Now we are closer to our goal, which is to play the final.”

Messi’s participation in the game had been in doubt for several days after he missed the game with Peru after sustaining a thigh problem against Chile in the group stage.

And he admitted the injury had been on his mind.

“I felt good, I had no discomfort but I felt a little of the psychological fear when you have an injury, which is always there,” he added. 

“But at the muscular level I didn’t feel anything.”

Messi went first in the shootout but his attempted Panenka clipped the bar and went over. Fortunately for the Argentina captain, goalkeeper Emiliano ‘Dibu’ Martinez saved from Angel Mena and Alan Minda to send the Albiceleste through.

Of his spot-kick, Messi said he felt a “lot of anger”. He added: “I was convinced to kick it as I did, because I had talked to Dibu, with [reserve goalkeeper Geronimo] Rulli, and I had been kicking several penalties in a row to the corners. In fact, the goalkeeper dived today but I wanted to clip it.”

Picture of Jon Fisher

Jon Fisher

Jon has over 20 years' experience in sports journalism having worked at the Press Association, Goal and Stats Perform, covering three World Cups, an Olympics and numerous other major sporting events.