Messi leads Argentina to win over PortugalGENEVA - Lionel Messi got the better of Cristiano Ronaldo in the first national-team meeting between soccer’s most acclaimed goal-scorers, converting a 90th-minute penalty kick Wednesday night to give Argentina a 2-1 exhibition win over Portugal.
“We always enjoy seeing two great players on the same field,’’ Argentina coach Sergio Batista said. “I liked both of them tonight. Lionel was at a higher level.’’
Argentina went ahead in the 14th minute when Angel di Maria scored off a pass from Messi, the reigning two-time FIFA player of the year. Messi was positioned as a central striker and didn’t have to retreat into the midfield, the tactic employed by then-coach Diego Maradona at the World Cup last year. Messi failed to score a goal in South Africa, and the Albiceleste lost 4-0 to Germany in the quarterfinals.
“I’ve played in the same position for Barcelona, and I’ve been very comfortable because I get more of the ball,’’ said Messi, who has 40 goals in 33 games for the Blaugrana this season.
Ronaldo, the 2008 FIFA player of the year, tied the score in the 21st minute with his 26th goal in 80 international appearances and first in seven head-to-head matches against Messi for club and country. Ronaldo is tied with Messi for the Spanish league with 24 goals and has 34 goals in 35 games for Real Madrid.
Argentina substitute Javier Pastore struck the crossbar with an 86th-minute header off a cross from Messi.
Messi’s penalty kick came after referee Massimo Busacca called Fabio Coentrao for a foul on Pastore and was his 16th goal in 54 international appearances, his third in seven games against Ronaldo.
“The draw would have been fair. We played well. In the first half we dominated after Argentina had also dominated,’’ said Ronaldo, Portugal’s captain. “We’re keeping our heads high.’’
It was the second straight time Argentina won on a late goal by Messi, who scored in injury time for a 1-0 victory over Brazil in November.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game because Portugal has very quick players,’’ Messi said.
Messi’s Barcelona and Ronaldo’s Manchester United and Real Madrid have often been opponents at club level in the Champions League and now Spain, but their two countries had not played each other since 1972.
The neutral Stade de Geneve felt like a home game for Portugal thanks to its large expatriate community in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.
Messi was subjected to whistles and jeers when he shimmied past a Ronaldo challenge in the second minute.
Both teams showed positive signs in their rebuilding process - under Batista and Portugal coach Paulo Bento - after underachieving at the World Cup. Argentina’s next game is against the United States at East Rutherford, N.J., on March 26.
“We’re faithful to our way of playing but we know we have a still a lot of improving to do,’’ Messi said.
In other friendlies, Croatia defeated the Czech Republic 4-2, England downed Denmark 2-1 and the Netherlands beat Austria 3-1.