Papu Gomez scored in the 10th minute when Argentina beat Paraguay 1-0 on Monday and secured their place in the knockout phase of the Copa America.
The result at the Mane Garincha Stadium in Brazil brought Argentina to the top of Group A with seven points from three matches. The game also gave Lionel Messi a record 147th cap for the national team, leveling with retired defender Javier Mascherano.
Chile, which also qualifies for the quarterfinals, is second in the group with five points after a 1-1 draw with Uruguay. Paraguay has three points, followed by Uruguay (1) and Bolivia (0).
Captain Messi, looking for his first big title in the national team, had to work with a team influenced by six changes in the starting lineup.
Defenders Herman Petzela and Nicolas Taliafico, midfielders Rodrigo de Paul and Leandro Paredes; and forward Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria began. Nicolas Otamendi, Marcos Acuna, Leandro Paredes, Giovanni Lo Celso, Lautaro Martinez and Nico Gonzalez remained out of the starting lineup.
The changes did not stop Argentina from starting strongly. At the start of the game, Messi found Di Maria on the right and the veteran winger slipped into the Paraguayan defense with an assist to Gomez. The striker struck a blow over Paraguay’s goalkeeper Anthony Silva.
Argentina forced Silva to make important saves in the first half, but the team’s energy weakened in the second half, as in several recent games.
“I expected this opportunity,” said Argentine Gomez after the match. “I think about my family, my friends. It comes to you that you put a lot of effort (to be there). I had the patience to wait.”
The last match of the group stage of Argentina will be on Monday against Bolivia. Paraguay will take over Chile on Thursday. The four in each group of five teams will advance.