Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal against Chile at Estadio Unico, Santiago del Estero, Argentina June 3, 2021. — Reuters pic
Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal against Chile at Estadio Unico, Santiago del Estero, Argentina June 3, 2021. — Reuters pic

SANTIAGO DEL ESTERO, June 4 — Lionel Messi scored a first-half penalty for hosts Argentina before Chile’s Alexis Sanchez equalised as their World Cup qualifier ended 1-1 on Thursday.

Messi converted from the spot midway through the first half after Guillermo Maripan brought down Lautaro Martinez in the box. Chile striker Sanchez levelled in the 37th minute, finishing off a cut back from Gary Medel.

Chile keeper Claudio Bravo made a world class save to keep the scores level just before halftime, tipping a Messi free kick round the post.

The match in Santiago del Estero was Argentina’s first competitive outing since November and both sides looked rusty.

Argentina pushed forward as the game went on but Chile’s rearguard was solid, even without their talismanic holding midfielder Arturo Vidal, who missed out after contracting COVID-19.

Messi almost snatched all three points in the last five minutes but could not find a way past Bravo.

The draw means Argentina are unbeaten at home against Chile in 35 matches, and have gone 12 games without defeat since losing to Brazil in the 2019 Copa America semi-finals.

Argentina are second in the 10-team South America qualifying group for Qatar 2022 with 11 points from five games, a point behind Brazil, who play Ecuador on Friday.

Chile are sixth, with five points from five games.

The top four teams qualify automatically for Qatar while the fifth-placed side goes into an intercontinental play-off.

Earlier in the day, Bolivia beat Venezuela 3-1 at home and Uruguay and Paraguay drew 0-0 in Montevideo. — Reuters

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