Belo Horizonte   -   Lionel Messi and goalkeeper Franco Armani saved Argentina from another Copa America defeat on Wednesday.

Messi scored a second-half equalizer and Armani later saved a penalty kick as Argentina salvaged a 1-1 draw with Paraguay at the Mineirao Stadium, leaving the team last in its group but still in contention for a spot in the knockout stage of the South American competition. After Richard Sanchez opened the scoring for Paraguay in the 37th minute, Messi converted a 57th-minute penalty kick awarded by video review following a handball by a defender inside the area.

Derlis Gonzalez had a chance to put Paraguay ahead again five minutes later, but Armani saved his shot from the penalty spot. Argentina, which had opened with a 2-0 loss to Colombia, stayed with one point from two matches in Group B. Qatar, which lost 1-0 to Colombia earlier Thursday, also had one point but was ahead on the tiebreakers. Paraguay stayed with two points and Colombia had six, already secured in the knockout stage.

Argentina, whose last group-stage elimination in the Copa America was in 1983, will need a win against guest Qatar on Sunday to advance to the next round. The top two teams in each of the three groups advance, along with the best two third-place finishers. Argentina, trying to end a title drought of 26 years, started the match with four changes to the team that lost to Colombia in the opener. Among those replaced were veterans Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria. Their substitutes were Lautaro Martinez and Rodrigo De Paul.

Midfielder Roberto Pereyra and defender Milton Casco also joined the starting lineup, replacing Guido Rodriguez and Renzo Saravia. The changes by coach Lionel Scaloni didn’t do much to improve Argentina, which again struggled to create scoring chances. Messi, in his fifth Copa America, played on the right flank, with Giovani Lo Celso and Leandro Paredes taking over the playmaking responsibilities at midfield.

The first half showed Paraguay with the best chances on counterattacks, with Gonzalez nearly opening the scoring with a shot that deflected off a defender in the 30th minute. Paraguay finally got on the board when Miguel Almiron ran past two Argentine defenders and sent a low cross to Sanchez, who hit a firm shot into the corner.

Paraguay kept the pressure until halftime, but Messi and Argentina improved significantly after the break, with Aguero and Di Maria helping in attack. After a video review saw a handball by Ivan Piris inside the area, Messi calmly converted from the spot to even the match at the Mineirao. Gonzalez saw Armani save his penalty five minutes later after Nicolas Otamendi fouled him inside the area.

LATE ZAPATA GOAL GIVES COLOMBIA 1-0 WIN OVER QATAR: A late goal from Duvan Zapata, his second in two games, gave Colombia a 1-0 win over Qatar on Wednesday and guaranteed their place in the quarter-finals of the Copa America.

Zapata rose with five minutes left to head home a floated cross from Man of the Match James Rodriguez and break the deadlock in a scrappy but end to end encounter at the Morumbi stadium.  The result means Colombia, who beat Argentina 2-0 in their opening match, now have six points and top Group B, with Argentina playing Paraguay later on Wednesday.

Qatar have one point after drawing 2-2 with Paraguay on Sunday but could still qualify for the last eight. Colombia were the better team in the first half, with Roger Martinez having a goal ruled out for offside after just five minutes and Rodriguez putting a free header wide eight minutes later.

Asian champions Qatar, one of the two non-South American teams invited, improved in the second period but just as the game looked destined to finish goalless, Zapata gave Colombia all three points. “We’re on the right track but we’re still a long way from achieving all we really want,” Rodriguez told reporters. A poor crowd of just over 22,000 people watched the game on a chilly night. The final games in the group take place on Sunday when Colombia face Paraguay and Qatar play Argentina.