Tevez miss sends Argentina crashing out

 

Soccer:Lionel Messi’s dream of lifting the Copa America title on home soil was left in tatters in Sante Fe on Saturday night after Carlos Tevez’s missed penalty saw them exit the tournament to old rivals Uruguay in a dramatic quarter-final.

Uruguay, aiming for a record 15th title, won the penalty shootout 5-4 following a 1-1 draw after extra time and will meet Peru in Tuesday’s semi-final in La Plata after they upset Colombia 2-0 after extra time in Cordoba.

Messi, amazingly still without a goal for Argentina in a competitive match since March 2009, had dreamt of inspiring Argentina to their first major title since the 1993 Copa America before an assault on the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

Coach Sergio Batista’s critics can be expected to round on him after a disappointing tournament in which Argentina only won one group match against a weak Costa Rica side despite preaching the kind of attacking football perfected by Messi's club Barcelona.

“I will carry on ... I don’t call this a failure,” Batista told reporters at the Brigadier Estanislao Lopez stadium.

“We have to continue working for the most important thing which is getting to the World Cup,” added Batista, whose contract runs until the end of the South American qualifiers in 2013.

“In the first two matches we didn’t play the way we wanted, in the third we played well and today we could have won in the first half which was our aim. Then we lost some composure when it was 10 against 10.”

Manchester City playmaker Tevez became the Argentine villain as the only player to have his penalty saved in the shootout by Fernando Muslera, who had a fine game in goal.

Oscar Tabarez’s side stunned the home crowd by taking a fifth-minute lead. Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero made a good diving save to keep out Martin Caceres’s header from Diego Forlan’s free-kick, but Diego Perez pounced to squeeze home the opening goal.

Their lead lasted only 12 minutes, though, before Real Madrid forward striker Gonzalo Higuain glanced home a fine cross from Messi.

Uruguay suffered a further blow before the interval when midfielder Perez was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence following a foul on Fernando Gago.

Despite their numerical advantage, Argentina looked shaky at the back and the lively Luis Suarez threatened to put Uruguay ahead again but to no avail, while Messi, Higuain and Sergio Aguero were also unsuccessful in their quest to find a way past Muslera.

Javier Mascherano saw red for a second bookable offence after fouling Suarez towards the end of normal time, leaving it 10 men apiece for the additional 30 minutes.

Javier Pastore and Tevez were introduced in place of Angel Di Maria and Aguero and caused a few problems for Muslera and the Uruguay defence, but neither could grab the crucial goal.

Higuain passed up a glorious chance to win it for Argentina but smashed against the post with only Muslera to beat.

And man-of-the-match Muslera was to prove the key figure in the shootout, keeping out Tevez’s third spot-kick for Argentina.

Messi, Nicolas Burdisso, Pastore and Higuain were all successful for Argentina while Forlan, Suarez, Andres Scotti, Walter Gargano and Caceres kept their cool for Uruguay.

Muslera was thrilled to have helped his side advance to the last four.

“We are very, very happy to make such a big step in the tournament,” said the 25-year-old Lazio goalkeeper.

“I hope I have just played one of the best matches in my short career. I’m very happy for all the people in Uruguay. This team deserves this win.

“We were better than Argentina, even playing with 10 men. Then, penalties are just a matter of luck.”

Defender Diego Lugano added: “We fought more than we played. There is a long way to go yet. We have not achieved anything, but we defeated the most difficult rival.”