Lionel Messi rued Argentina’s lack of cutting edge in front of goal as their 2019 Copa America campaign got off to the worst possible start against Colombia.

Goals from Roger Martinez and Duvan Zapata in the final 20 minutes, against the run of play it has to be said, condemned Messi and Co to a 2-0 defeat in Salvador to put a dent in the Barcelona forward’s hopes of finally landing an international trophy with the Albiceleste.

“We leave here feeling bitter,” said Messi following the Group B clash at the Fonte Nova Arena. “In the second half we had our chances.”

Argentina registered 13 shots with six of those on target as they fielded a mouthwatering front three of Messi, Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero and Paris Saint-Germain winger Angel Di Maria.

One of the best chances of the second half fell to the 31-year-old Messi, who headed wide after Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina had saved Nicolas Otamendi’s initial effort.

The victory was Colombia’s first over Argentina in tournament football in 20 years.

“We didn’t want to start this way, obviously, but now we have to lift our heads and keep going,” said the five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi.

“In the first half we retreated a little and were holding on, but in the second we really opened up.

“Whenever you lose it’s hard for us, we usually take it badly. Now we have to think about Paraguay.”

Two-time World Cup winners Argentina have not won a major tournament since last lifting the Copa America in 1993.

Messi has come agonisingly close to winning an elusive gold medal at international level on three occasions. Argentina lost the last two Copa finals, both to Chile on penalties, and were also beaten 1-0 in the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil.

Argentina can still make the knockout stages with games against Paraguay and guests Qatar, the Asian champions, to come.

“The players know there is a long way to go and we have two matches left,” said Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni.

“The important thing is to stay on the right path and correct our mistakes.”

Colombia edged a goalless first 45 minutes before scoring twice against the run of play in the second period, with both goals coming from substitutes.

“I came on and helped my team. We did the best we could and we managed to turn the game around at the end of the second half. We played really well,” said Zapata, the striker whose 23 goals in Serie A fired Atalanta to a third-placed finish and qualification to the Uefa Champions League for the first time in the club’s 112-year history.

Portuguese manager Carlos Queiroz, who only took over Colombia after leaving his job with Iran at the end of the Asian Cup in the UAE earlier this year, paid tribute to the side’s collective effort.

“Colombia as a team was the best player on the pitch. We played with a lot of discipline, concentration, with responsibility, and players with the quality of James [Rodriguez] and [Radamel] Falcao helped us a lot in this organization,” Queiroz said.

The former Real Madrid manager said plans to “neutralise” Messi paid off with the Argentina captain a largely peripheral figure in a goalless first half.

“I think we were a bit nervous in the first half because it was the first match of the tournament,” admitted Messi.

Tempers threatened to boil over after Colombia winger Juan Cuadrado nailed Messi with a late challenge. The incident sparked a brief melee between the two sets of players, and the Juventus winger was shown a yellow card before being sensibly withdrawn by Queiroz.

On 71 minutes, Colombia took the lead.

Rodriguez, whose future remains up in the air after returning to Real Madrid after an underwhelming season on loan at German champions Bayern Munich, started the move by picking out Martinez with a crossfield ball. The substitute cut in from the left and his a piledriver that flew into the far corner beyond Franco Armani in the Argentina goal.

“When we were in our best moment, they scored on the counter-attack,” lamented Scaloni.

And four minutes from time, Martinez found overlapping full-back Jefferson Lerma, another substitute, and his left-wing cross was stabbed home by Zapata.

Colombia are well placed to win the group now, with Qatar up next on Wednesday while Argentina face Paraguay.

“The most important thing is that we all put in a huge effort, it’s a great day for everyone,” Rodriguez said.

“We’re still a long way from where we want to go,” he added.

Source: The National