Posted August 15, 2012 on AP on Fox
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It wasn't so long ago that Lionel Messi was being criticized for failing to translate his Barcelona form on the international stage. Not any more. The reigning three-time FIFA Player of the Year took his tally for Argentina to nine goals in his last five matches by scoring the team's second in a 3-1 win over 10-man Germany on a busy round of exhibitions on Wednesday. It was a successful night for another South American power, too, with Brazil recovering in style from its loss to Mexico in the Olympic final by beating Sweden 3-0 away. Brazil great Pele was in the crowd at the Rasunda stadium, where as a 17-year-old prodigy he scored twice in the 1958 World Cup final between the two sides. World champion Spain beat Puerto Rico 2-1 away in its first match since retaining its continental title at the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine, and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo was on target for Portugal in its 2-0 win over Panama in Faro. England beat Italy 2-1 thanks to Jermain Defoe's late goal, France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and Belgium beat the Netherlands 4-2 in other high-profile games as European teams used the matches to assess their squad options ahead of the World Cup qualification campaign that starts next month. Messi, the scorer of 73 goals for Barcelona last season, seems to be reveling in his role as Argentina captain since being given the armband by coach Alejandro Sabella, scoring hat tricks against Switzerland and Brazil already in 2012. The diminutive forward had a penalty saved against Germany in the 32nd minute by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who came on as a substitute moments earlier after fellow goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler was given a straight red card for a professional foul. But Messi made up for it by ending a free-flowing move with a neat finish in the 52nd minute, adding to an own goal scored by Sami Khedira on the stroke of halftime. Angel di Maria, who was brought down by Zieler for the penalty, sealed the win with a long-range strike in the 73rd. ''Germany is a world power in football and very strong,'' said Messi, who struck a shot against the post late on. ''But then we had the extra man and could let the ball do the work. We could control the game and deserved to win.'' Benedikt Hoewedes scored a late consolation for Germany, which lost to Italy in the semifinals of Euro 2012. Brazil was playing its first match since losing the Olympic final 2-1 to Mexico, and coach Mano Menezes kept faith with the majority of the team that played at Wembley Stadium. One of the retained players, Leandro Damiao, gave Brazil the lead in the 32nd with a header from Neymar's cross before Pato scored twice in a three-minute span late on, with his second coming from the penalty spot. ''We wanted to leave a strong impression and I think the national team played a good game where we created many chances and we scored three goals,'' Menezes said. Attacking midfielders Santi Cazorla and Cesc Fabregas scored in the final four minutes of the first half to set Spain on its way to victory in San Juan, six weeks after thrashing Italy 4-0 in the final of Euro 2012. Marc Cintron reduced the deficit in the 65th for Puerto Rico, a former colony of Spain and ranked 138th in the world. Ronaldo, who will return to domestic action along with Messi this weekend, scored his 36th international goal for Portugal after Panama had midfielder Gabriel Gomez sent off for elbowing Joao Moutinho. Portugal was already ahead 1-0 by that stage thanks to Nelson Oliveira's first goal for his country. England's reserves shone in the neutral territory of Bern, Switzerland, where Roy Hodgson's team took revenge on Italy following the loss in a penalty shootout to the Italians in the Euro quarterfinals. Daniele De Rossi headed Italy into the lead from a corner in the 15th but Phil Jagielka equalized from the same route 12 minutes later and Defoe crowned an encouraging second-half display with a stunning diagonal finish into the top corner in the 79th. France, the Netherlands and Russia were playing their first games under new coaches and neither Didier Deschamps, Louis van Gaal nor Fabio Capello started their tenures with victories. The French lacked a cutting edge at home to Uruguay after dominating the match in Le Havre, while the Dutch were beaten for the fourth straight game, having lost every group match at Euro 2012. Their defensive problems were there for all to see as they conceded three avoidable goals between the 75th and the 80th. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar had put the Dutch 2-1 ahead in the 55th but Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku and Jan Vertonghen gave Belgium victory over its neighbor. Alan Dzagoev looked like he would be giving Capello a first win in charge of Russia when he scored with a low free kick but Max Gradel equalized for Ivory Coast in a 1-1 draw in Moscow. Other notable wins came from Slovakia, which beat Denmark 3-1, Switzerland, which defeated Croatia 4-2, and Estonia, which beat Euro 2012 co-host Poland 1-0 at home.
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