Fatigue blamed for Argentina's poor showing
VINA DEL MAR, CHILE
GONZALO Higuain fired the only goal as Argentina marked Lionel Messi's 100th appearance with an unconvincing 1-0 win over Jamaica to reach the Copa America quarter-finals as group winners on Saturday.
Napoli striker Higuain, reportedly a transfer target for English giants Manchester United and Arsenal, struck in the 11th minute to ensure Argentina finished on top of Group B, ahead of Paraguay and Uruguay, who drew 1-1.
But it was another patchy performance from the 2014 World Cup finalists, who made desperately hard work of breaking down a side ranked 65th in the world.
Argentina coach Gerardo Martino blamed weariness.
"The first half was okay. We played fine and we scored quickly and created five or six chances to score," he said.
"At the end though, it was a bit tedious but we did what was necessary. Physically, we struggled a bit in the second half."
Argentina will now have nearly a week's rest before the quarter-final, which will be against either Ecuador or the third-placed team in Group C.
"There are things to fix," he said. "We've got six days' rest now before the quarter-finals and I think we need them.
"We've had three matches in a week, so it's been a tough schedule."
The build-up to the match in Vina del Mar had been dominated by Messi, who took to the field wearing boots emblazoned with "100" as he brought up a century of caps.
After a one-sided opening spell, it looked as if the South American giants were ready to lay on a goal feast to mark their captain's milestone.
But Jamaica, whose players are drawn mostly from Major League Soccer and the lower leagues of English football, proved surprisingly resilient, with goalkeeper Dwayne Miller producing some fine saves.
Messi, Higuain and Manchester United star Angel di Maria all started brightly, bristling with energy and intent as Jamaica struggled to get out of their own half in the opening minutes.
The early pressure paid off when di Maria crossed low to Higuain, who took one touch before spinning smartly to shoot low past Miller for 1-0.
But as the game progressed, Argentina looked increasingly devoid of inspiration, and the match finished with Chilean fans giving roars of "ole" whenever Jamaica put together sequences of passes.
Meanwhile, Brazil coach Dunga said the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF) was studying the possibility of lodging an appeal against star Neymar's sensational four-game ban, which rules one of football's biggest names out of the remainder of the tournament.
He had been sanctioned for head-butting an opponent and verbally abusing the referee in Brazil's 0-1 loss to Colombia.
"CBF legal experts will respond to all the action taken against Neymar," Dunga told a press conference. "We don't want anything in our favour, we don't want anything against us, we just want it to be balanced."