Messi grabs hat-trick as Ar­gentina romp into quar­ters

Pakistan Observer - - SPORTS -

CHICAGO—Lionel Messi scored a mag­i­cal hat-trick in 19 min­utes as Ar­gentina cruised into the Copa Amer­ica Cen­te­nario quar­ter-fi­nals with a 5-0 rout of Panama. Messi had been forced to de­lay his de­but in the tour­na­ment af­ter a slow re­cov­ery from a lower back in­jury, with Ar­gentina coach Ger­ardo Martino sur­pris­ingly nam­ing him amongst the sub­sti­tutes once more.

But Messi wasted no time in stamp­ing his ge­nius on the tour­na­ment af­ter com­ing on in the 61st minute to re­place Au­gusto Fer­nan­dez with Ar­gentina lead­ing the Group D game 1-0.

An elec­tri­fy­ing cameo from the Barcelona su­per­star be­gan with his first goal of the tour­na­ment on 68 min­utes, fin­ish­ing with aplomb af­ter Gon­zalo Higuain’s shot bounced off a Pana­ma­nian de­fender into his path.

But there was no ques­tion of luck with his sec­ond, with Messi curl­ing a won­der­ful free-kick into the top cor­ner to bring the Sol­dier Field crowd to its feet in the 78th minute.

With Panama’s heads down, Messi then duly com­pleted his quick-fire hat-trick — skip­ping clear of a marker in­side the penalty area to fin­ish em­phat­i­cally for 4-0. There was still time for Messi to have a hand in Ar­gentina’s fifth goal of the evening, pro­vid­ing a sub­lime pass in the build-up to Ser­gio Aguero’s close range headed ef­fort in the 90th minute.

Aguero’s Manch­ester City team-mate Ni­co­las Ota­mendi had opened the scor­ing for Ar­gentina in the sev­enth minute, head­ing home an An­gel Di Maria free-kick from close range.

“I’m happy to be play­ing again, I re­ally wanted to play tonight,” a sat­is­fied Messi said. “I’m very happy with the re­sult and the goals,” added Messi, whose en­trance was ac­com­pa­nied by a loud ova­tion and chants of his name.

Shell­shocked Panama coach Her­nan Dario Gomez, the ex­pe­ri­enced Colom­bian, was left in awe by Messi’s mas­ter­class. “Messi is a mon­ster,” Gomez said. “Be­fore he came on the match was quite even. But with Messi you make one mis­take, and you pay for it.”

Aguero’s Manch­ester City team-mate Ni­co­las Ota­mendi had opened the scor­ing for Ar­gentina in the sev­enth minute, head­ing home an An­gel Di Maria free-kick from close range. The vic­tory sees Ar­gentina, con­vinc­ing 2-1 win­ners over Chile in their open­ing game, guar­an­teed a spot in the last eight with one group game re­main­ing.

The only blem­ish on the evening was an in­jury to Di Maria, who limped off in the first half to ex­tend his mis­er­able record of in­juries in ma­jor tour­na­ments.

The Paris Saint-Ger­main winger was in­jured in the 2014 World Cup, miss­ing the fi­nal, and was also in­jured dur­ing last year’s Copa Amer­ica in Chile. Ar­gentina are now firmly on course to top Group D, with only one game against point­less Bo­livia to come.

Fri­day’s win marked a daz­zling re­turn to the spot­light for Messi, who is de­ter­mined to help lead Ar­gentina to their first ma­jor in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment vic­tory for 23 years. Messi, a vet­eran of Ar­gentina’s ag­o­niz­ing de­feats in the 2014 World Cup fi­nal and 2015 Copa Amer­ica fi­nal, had ar­rived in the United States nurs­ing a back in­jury sus­tained dur­ing a friendly vic­tory against Hon­duras last month.

He was late join­ing up with the squad af­ter re­turn­ing to Spain to give ev­i­dence in his tax fraud trial.

On Thurs­day he had faced a fresh round of crit­i­cism from Ar­gentina great Diego Maradona, who ac­cused Messi of lack­ing “the per­son­al­ity to be a leader” dur­ing re­marks to jour­nal­ists in Paris on the eve of Euro 2016.

But 24 hours later, Messi crafted the best pos­si­ble re­sponse on the pitch at Chicago, light­ing up the tour­na­ment with a hat-trick per­for­mance that firmly es­tab­lishes Ar­gentina as the team to beat.—AFP

Ar­gentina’s Lionel Messi wasted no time in stamp­ing his ge­nius on the Copa Amer­ica Cen­te­nario af­ter com­ing on in the 61st minute to score a hat-trick against Panama in just 19 min­utes.

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