Argentina have crashed out of the Copa America after suffering heartbreak in the penalty shoot-out against fierce enemies Uruguay, with the Man City star seeing his kick saved
Argentina are out of the 2011 Copa America in their own backyard when they lost 5-4 on penalties to Uruguay after both teams were deadlocked at 1-1 after 120 minutes.
Diego Perez's early goal was cancelled out by Gonzalo Higuain in an action-packed first-half, but despite chances at both ends neither side could break the deadlock, ensuring a nerve-wracking shoot-out to end proceedings.
Argentina once more tried to take the game to the opposition from the first whistle, and intelligent play between Higuain and Kun Aguero allowed the Real Madrid man to release a shot, although it was well-covered by Fernando Muslera. After just five minutes, however, Uruguay found the formula to silence the Santa Fe crowd.
A Diego Forlan free kick was not dealt with by the Albiceleste defence, and the ball was turned in just inside the far post by Diego Perez to send the away section wild in the 'Elephant's Graveyard'.
The goal rocked the home side, who looked scrappy in the opening moments before Higuain was on hand to restore parity.
'Pipita' had Lionel Messi to thank for his strike, after the Barcelona star did wonderfully to open up the game. Messi shrugged off his markers before releasing a perfectly-weighted cross into the box, and Higuain made no mistake in heading past Muslera and into the goal. Argentina looked comfortable after equalising, spraying the ball around with authority against their arch-rivals. Higuain thought he had scored again from another Messi centre, but was adjudged narrowly, yet correctly, offside by the officials.
Uruguay on the other hand relied on the counter-attack, using Luis Suarez as the sole target for long balls. From set-pieces, however, they looked forever dangerous against an unconvincing Albiceleste back-line. Martin Caceres smashed home the rebound from a free-kick only to be denied by the linesman's flag, while Diego Lugano came within an inch of netting the second when his header bounced back off the bar.
Things were made no easier for the visitors late in the half when goalscorer Perez clattered Fernando Gago and received a second booking, consigning the Celeste to play the remaining 55 minutes with 10 men.
After a madcap first 45 minutes, both teams took steps to slow the pace down after the break. Uruguay in particular retreated down the pitch, a logical step given the numerical disadvantage. Argentina meanwhile looked assured on the ball, but too often lacked the final product necessary to open the game up. The best chances early on came from distance. Angel Di Maria smashed over after a great cross-field ball from Javier Mascherano, while Zabaleta and Messi also threatened without a great deal of danger.
With 15 minutes left Batista brought on Javier Pastore, and the Palermo man seemed to add creativity to the unit. A beautiful combination with Messi released Higuain, and the no. 9 was only denied by a fantastic save one-on-one. That was followed by a heart-stopping moment for home fans, when Sergio Romero had to stop Forlan who was clean through.
Lugano also went close in heading a Forlan corner over the bar, but neither side could break the deadlock and the match entered extra time. Argentina were forced to play it without their captain; Mascherano became the second player to be expelled, once more for a second booking. A Carlos Tevez free-kick almost avoided that outcome, but Muslera palmed away the substitute's effort before saving from Higuain at point-blank range.
Both teams had chances to wrap up the game in the additional half-hour. A poor clearance from Nicolas Burdisso gave Alvaro Pereira a half-chance, and his shot went barely over the cross-bar. Higuain also had a glorious chance, but smashed against the post with just Muslera to beat. Pastore and Higuain then went close in the second half, but as the minutes ticked by, penalties loomed on the horizon.
Messi went first for the hosts and duly sent Muslera the wrong way. Forlan responded for Uruguay with his kick going straight down the middle. Burdisso and Suarez also netted convincingly, before Tevez saw his powerful effort kept out by Muslera.
Scotti, Pastore, Gargano and Higuain converted their spot-kicks to leave the score poised at 4-4, but Caceres tucked away the final kick to send Uruguay into the semi-final 5-4 on penalties.