Argentina inflicted Colombia’s first World Cup qualifying defeat after coming from behind to steal a vital three away points in the Estadio Metropolitano.
Sergio Aguero’s strike six minutes from time silenced the legions of home fans packed into Barranquilla’s stadium and eased the pressure on under-fire Albicelestes manager Alejandro Sabella.
But for Colombia, as had happened four days previous against Venezuela, a winning position was squandered. Following Dorlan Pabon’s deflected first-half free-kick, Lionel Messi and then Aguero struck to deliver a miserable return of one home point out of six for Leonel Alvarez’s much-fancied side.
Argentina, with problems of their own following a lackluster 1-1 home draw against Bolivia last Friday, began brightly, dominating possession and forcing Colombia onto the back foot.
Without ever testing Colombia stopper David Ospina the Argentines bossed the early stages, pressing quietly, efficiently, while keeping quiet Colombia’s front pair of Jackson Martinez and Adrian Ramos.
It was Ramos, however, who carved open the first chance, charging with pace and intent down the left wing but foiled at the final length by the outstretched boot of Nicolas Burdisso.
It signified an injection of purpose into Los Cafeteros’ attacking threat and Martinez, isolated for the opening stages was offered his first sniff of goal. First a header directed ground-wards and at a difficult angle and then, minutes later, a cross the tall Jaguares striker’s toenails missed by a whisker.
The confidence crept and James Rodriguez, the young creator and successor to El Pibe’s crown, found his rhythm. From the left and the right, the Porto starlet took control, directing Colombia’s attacking flows with invention and precision.
And so it was, a breath before halftime that James was tumbled on the edge of the area. Pabon, scorer against Bolivia in Colombia’s first World Cup game, whipped a rather tame effort into the area only for Javier Mascherano to direct into his own goal. The stadium exploded and the referee immediately blew for half time.
It was there however where Argentina coach Sabella masterminded the turnaround. Messi, largely ineffective and absent from Argentina’s first-half attacking assaults switched to the playmaking role, while Aguero entered the fold as shooting companion for Gonzalo Higuain.
The game’s template resumed a familiar pattern. Argentina assumed control, the ball largely in white and sky blue possession, but this time with the drive, direction and sublimity orchestrated by the world’s greatest player.
With 60 minutes on the clock, Messi fed Jose Sosa with a delicious ball and then charged into the area to slot home the return number after capitalizing on Ospina’s dreadful fumble.
And, with six minutes left and Colombia absent as an attacking force, Messi was again left pulling the strings of another side’s demise. He started a move and then tested Ospina before Higuain shot and then finally Aguero slotted home the rebound.
As the full time whistle rang out on Colombia’s unhappy time in the Barranquilla sun, manager Alvarez was left with much to ponder before their World Cup journey continues again next June away in Peru.