Lionel Messi struck the only goal of the game as 10-man Argentina secured a 1-0 win over rivals Uruguay in World Cup qualifying on Thursday.
Just over two months after retiring from international football, a decision he later reversed, Messi was the hero for Argentina in Mendoza.
The strike – which deflected off Uruguay defender Jose Maria Gimenez – was enough to separate the two sides in Edgardo Bauza’s first game in charge.
The win sends Argentina above Uruguay and to the top of the qualification standings after seven games.
This summer, Messi endured an emotional Copa America Centenario, which saw him briefly retire from international football.
He began the tournament in the United States with an injury, but still fired La Albiceleste to the final with five goals and five assists.
En route to the showpiece event in New Jersey, the Barcelona superstar became Argentina’s all-time top goalscorer, usurping Gabriel Batistuta’s tally of 54.
However, the Copa ended in tears for Messi as he missed a spot-kick in a penalty shoot-out defeat to Chile – Argentina’s second to La Roja in as many years.
Those two losses, which followed a defeat to Germany after extra-time in the 2014 World Cup final, caused the captain to immediately quit the national team set-up, which was already in disarray.
As such, the No.10 returned to net a first-half clincher against Uruguay in Mendoza, with a deflected effort from the edge of the 18-yard box.
Two minutes later, though, the skipper was questioning the referee as the sides headed down the tunnel for the interval, following a red card for Paulo Dybala.
The Juventus striker left the field crying on his first Argentina start – a fate which also befell Messi on his international debut in 2005.
Meanwhile, CONMEBOL is already approaching its eighth matchday of qualification for the World Cup in Russia, with Argentina now leading the rankings on 14 points – one ahead of Uruguay, Colombia and Ecuador.
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