World Cup roundup: ARG-BIH, FRA-HON, SUI-ECU (June 15)
GROUP F: Argentina 2, Bosnia-Herzegovina 1
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 theworld. 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 without losing speed and balance.
Messi, who has been accused by critics of not playing with as much heart for the national team as he does for Barcelona, pulled on his blue-and-white striped jersey and ran to the sideline before pumping his fist toward the fans.
"I wanted to release all the energy from other times when things didn't go right (with the national team)," he said. "It's always a pleasure to score with the national team".
Second-half substitute Ibisevic put some nerve back in the match when he picked up a pass from Senad Lulic and slotted the ball between Romero's legs.
Bosnia started with Edin Dzeko as a lone striker and coach Safet Susic only added Ibisevic after Argentina'ssecond goal.
"I told him that playing against Argentina I cannot play two attackers," Susic said. "And besides in the midfield we have very offensive-minded players. Playing two strikers (from the start) would have been very risky."
Argentina plays Iran on Saturday, while Bosnia will play Nigeria.
The match was the first World Cup game at the Maracana since Brazil lost to Uruguay in the final round of the 1950 tournament, which remains a deep wound in Brazilian football history. The July 13 World Cup final will also be held at the Maracana.
GROUP E: France 3, Honduras 0
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — Goal-line technology did its job when it counted at the World Cup, although not without a little bit of confusion.
France was the beneficiary of the first World Cup goal awarded thanks to the new system being used in Brazil, which ruled correctly that Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares had narrowly spilled the ball over his own line.
That gave France its second goal in a 3-0 win and helped rule out any real controversy in an situation that would have been difficult for any referee to judge correctly. However, Honduras players and coach Luis Suarez were still angry after the video replay showed two separate incidents and therefore conflicting results.
The goal came in the 48th minute, when Karim Benzema’s shot hit the far post and rebounded to Valladares, who fumbled the ball into the goal.
The seven video cameras trained on the goal established that the ball had briefly crossed the line by a few inches, alerting the referee on his watch with a flashing “GOAL,” before the ball was pushed out again by Valladares.
The confusion happened when the system showed replays of Benzema’s shot hitting the post with the verdict “NO GOAL” before continuing to show the rest of the sequence and the ball crossing the line.
The change infuriated the Honduras players, some of whom remonstrated with referee Sandro Ricci, while Honduras coach Luis Suarez bickered with France coach Didier Deschamps. At the end of the match, they hugged and made up.
“Well, I wasn’t angry because they accepted the goal. I was angry because they didn’t accept the goal. The first decision was ‘No goal’ and then the machine said it was a goal,” Suarez said through a translator. “So I don’t know what to think. That’s the point. If the technology sends a clear message, then I don’t understand how the system can say it’s a goal first and then ‘No goal.’ What is the truth?”
That video replay also confused some TV commentators and viewers, and France defender Mamadou Sakho said that part of the system could still be improved.
“You see ‘No goal’ and then you see ‘Goal.’ Why not just show ‘Goal’? Then everyone can agree and you don’t need to hear the jeers from the crowd,” France defender Mamadou Sakho said. “Even I doubted for 10 seconds when I saw the ‘No goal.’ I thought ‘Oh dear, he’s going to disallow it.’ But then you see the ball had crossed the line.”
Deschamps had some sympathy with the Hondurans over the images that were broadcast by organizers.
“The only problem was that they showed an image on the screen that didn’t correspond to the goal,” the France coach said. “They showed the ball hitting the post when the ball hadn’t crossed the line yet. The ball was clearly over the line after the goalkeeper had fumbled.
“Obviously, I can put myself in their position and, of course, they were very angry and so were the fans — because if you’re going to show an image it should be the right one.”
As for the use of technology, though, he said: “It’s a very good thing.”
France also benefited from the first ever Golden Goal at a World Cup when defender Laurent Blanc scored late into extra time in the second round against Paraguay in 1998 — the year it won the tournament.
Ecuador's Felipe Caicedo, right, controls the ball against England's Chris Smalling in a friendly game's first half June 4 in Florida. MCT PHOTO
Group E: Switzerland 2, Ecuador 1
BRASILIA, Brazil — Switzerland grabbed a winner with virtually the final kick to earn a 2-1 victory over Ecuador in the World Cup, extending a run of come-from-behind wins that are becoming a theme of the tournament.
With just seconds left in the third and final minute of stoppage time, substitute Haris Seferovi? finished off a length-of-the-field move by slamming home a close-range shot. After wild Swiss celebrations, Ecuador's shell-
It was the fifth time in the first nine matches in Brazil that a team had come from a goal down to win — but this was the most dramatic of all the comebacks.
"It was a dream to be able to win this match in the very last minute like this," Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said through a translator. "It was emotional — it will be important for the morale of the team."
Sluggish in the first half-hour, Switzerland — highly fancied after rising to No. 6 in the FIFA rankings — conceded a sloppy goal to go behind when Enner Valencia rose unmarked in the 22nd minute and headed in a free kick from six yards.
Ecuador's defending for the 48th-minute equalizer was just as abject, however, with Admir Mehmedi finding space from even closer in to nod in a corner.
With Mehmedi and Seferovic both second-half substitutes, it was no wonder that the wily Hitzfeld — a veteran coach with two Champions League titles on his resume — had a huge grin on his face at the final whistle.
Not so his counterpart.
"We were naive and that cost us the game," Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rieda said. "[The loss] is more our fault. We were not beaten by our opponent."
FIFA President Sepp Blatter was present — and was booed by sections of the crowd — for what was probably the poorest game at this World Cup in terms of quality. Thousands of fans missed the first part of the match because of long queues to pass through security.
It meant there were still plenty of empty seats when Valencia stole a yard on Johan Djourou and guided a simple header into the net from Walter Ayovi's free kick, with Switzerland goalkeeper Diego Benaglio left completely stranded.
It was one of the few clear-cut chances created by Ecuador, which is now on the back foot in a Group E also containing France and Honduras.