RIO DE JANEIRO – It took Lionel Messi just over an hour in Argentina’s World Cup opener against Bosnia-Herzegovina to show why so many fans consider him the best in the world.
After a frustrating first half, the Argentina captain scored in trademark style in the 65th minute on Sunday night, completing a quick 1-2 connection with Gonzalo Higuain and running through defenders before striking a brilliant left-footed shot off the post.
The goal – only the second for Messi on football’s biggest stage – set off wild celebrations among the throngs of Argentine fans that had turned the famed Maracana stadium into a sea of blue and white. It also energized an unimpressive Argentina team that was ahead at that point only because of an early own goal by Bosnia.
Vedad Ibisevic scored a close-in goal in the 85th, but Argentina held on to win 2-1 in the Group F match.
It’s the first game, I was anxious, nervous, Messi said. It was important to start with a win. We’ve got to improve certain things, but it was important to start with the three points.
Bosnia got the worst possible start to its first World Cup when Sead Kolasinovic scored an own goal after just three minutes.
Messi sent a free kick from the left flank into the penalty area that Marcos Rojo barely touched before the ball bounced off Kolasinovic’s foot into Bosnia’s goal.
Bosnia bounced back after the early setback, with Izet Hajrovic slipping through Argentina’s five-man defense but failing to beat goalkeeper Sergio Romero. Five minutes before the break, Senad Lulic tested Romero’s reflexes with a well-timed header on a corner kick.
Meanwhile, there was no sign of Argentina’s vaunted attack, as Bosnia gave Messi no space to work his magic and Sergio Aguero hardly touched the ball.
Coach Alejandro Sabella put in Higuain at halftime, which allowed Messi to take a step back. That shift proved crucial, getting the Barcelona star more involved in the action. The changes gave Messi more support, Sabella said. He doesn’t need much, because he’s the best in the world. But there is always a context that can enhance him a little bit more.
After a string of dangerous runs, Messi combined with Higuain, pulled left along the penalty area, and scored after leaping over defender Ermin Bicakic.
SWITZERLAND 2, ECUADOR 1: In Brasilia, Brazil, a goal deep in stoppage-time by Haris Seferovic gave Switzerland a dramatic win in its Group E.
In a match that looked destined to end in a draw, substitute Seferovic fired home the winner in the closing seconds.
Enner Valencia had given Ecuador the lead in the 22nd minute at Estadio Nacional in the Brazilian capital.
Switzerland’s equalizer followed in the 48th, with Admir Mehmedi heading home from close range.
FRANCE 3, HONDURAS 0: In Porto Alegre, Brazil, Karim Benzema scored twice and created a third that was confirmed by goal-line technology as France won its first match.
Benzema first converted a penalty just before halftime after Wilson Palacios was sent off with his second yellow card for charging into the back of Paul Pogba.
With Honduras down to 10 men, France continued to dominate and Benzema created the second goal in the 48th minute – the first to be confirmed by goal-line technology at the World Cup.
Benzema scored his second in the 72nd, firing in powerfully from inside the area.