RIO DE JANEIRO: Lionel Messi scored a second-half penalty to keep Argentina’s narrow hopes of clearing the Copa America group stages alive as they recorded a 1-1 draw against Paraguay.

Goalkeeper Franco Armani also played a key role in avoiding another setback for La Albiceleste by saving a potentially-costly penalty kick.

After losing to Colombia for the first time in 12 years when beaten 2-0 in Salvador on Saturday, the pressure was on Messi’s side to produce a response in their second Group B match in Belo Horizonte.

But it was Paraguay’s Richard Sanchez who opened the scoring to put his side ahead in the 37th minute.

Newcastle’s Miguel Almiron let rip down the left of the field, from well inside his own half, outpacing German Pezzella before outsmarting Roberto Pereyra to cross to Sanchez as he arrived at the edge of the box.

Argentina’s opportunity to level matters came just before the hour mark after the video assistant referee clocked a handball by Paraguay’s Ivan Peris.

No one on the pitch had actually noticed the transgression, but the VAR graced La Albiceleste with their much-needed chance to equalise.

Gatito Fernandez correctly judged which way Messi was heading, but the Barcelona star’s left foot did the business – and the captain’s relief was palpable.

Yet five minutes later, Argentina looked to be in danger again when Derlis Gonzalez was awarded a penalty after Nicolas Otamendi brought him down in the box. But Armani prevented Gonzalez from converting and protected Argentina’s point.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni told ESPN: “Our first half was not good, we played with desperation at times and we couldn’t control the play or create attacks.

“We had a very clear plan but couldn’t execute it as we kept losing the ball.”

While Messi’s men are bottom of Group B, a win over Qatar in the final group game could give them a ticket to the quarter-finals.

If that isn’t enough for second they could still finish as one of the two best third-placed teams as they seek a first Copa America title since 1993.

However Qatar will be no pushovers, and only a late Duvan Zapata goal gave Colombia a 1-0 victory in the night’s other game.

The 2022 World Cup hosts drew their first ever Copa America match 2-2 with Paraguay and looked on course for another point until James Rodriquez’s superb cross was headed home by Zapata with four minutes remaining.