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Aug 15, 2012

Lionel Messi, Argentina handle Germany

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

In games played in the United States, Ecuador routed Chile 3-0, Canada beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0, Jamaica beat El Salvador 2-0, and Guatemala tied with Paraguay 3-3.

In New York, Ecuador, looking more like the South American leader in World Cup qualifying got goals from Narciso Mina, Jaime Ayovi and Jefferson Montero.

Using four attackers for much of the match, the Ecuadorians toyed with the early pacesetter of their continent in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

It was the third "futbol" match at Citi Field, home of the Mets, and certainly the wettest. The elements reduced the crowd to 31,901 soaked soccer aficionados whose enthusiasm wasn't dampened by the pounding rain that lasted through the first half.

The fans tooted their horns and chanted for their nations throughout in what seemed like a home game for Ecuador. More than 100,000 Ecuadorians live in Queens, the most in any county in the United States.

In a game played in a public park in Florida, Tosaint Ricketts and Will Johnson scored second half goals.

Ricketts opened the scoring in the 58th minute. Mark De Jong sent a crossing pass from the left wing to an open Ricketts. Ricketts found time to set the ball and convert on a 15-yard shot that landed under the crossbar.

Richard Roy nearly tied the match for a minute later as Canada goalkeeper Lars Hirshfeld deflected his shot inside the 6-yard box.

Johnson clinched Canada's victory with a penalty in the 86th minute. Trinidad and Tobago defender Kareem Moses was called for a handball inside the area. The match was played at a cricket stadium in Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill.

In Washington, Carlos Ruiz scored on an 84th-minute penalty to help Guatemala get the point in an entertaining match.

Ruiz also drew an earlier penalty that Marco Pappa converted, and Manuel Leon scored in Guatemala's first positive result in three matches against Paraguay this year.

Hernan Perez, Jonathan Fabbro and Oscar Cardozo scored for Paraguay during a match it led twice. Guatemala also held a lead late in the first and early in the second half.

Also in Washington, Luton Shelton scored twice for Jamaica for a confidence-boosting victory ahead of back-to-back World Cup qualifying matches against the United States in September.

Eliseo Quintanilla created most of the opportunities for El Salvador, which failed to translate a friendly crowd into a positive result before its return to qualifying.

Information from The Associated Presss was used in this report.

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