Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi scored three goals in his return from a back injury, as Argentina produced a scintillating performance to beat Panama 5-0 on Friday night in Chicago.
Messi replaced Augusto Fernandez in the 61st minute and produced a masterclass display as Argentina clinch a spot in the knock round of the Copa America Centenario.
Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi opened the scoring with a fine header from a curving Angel di Maria free-kick in the seventh minute.
Panama never really got back into the game with their tactics of applying physical pressure and hard pressing backfired completely. The players severely lacked discipline and their task became all the more difficult when they went down to 10 men after Anibal Godoy received his second yellow in the 31st minute.
With Argentina lacking that cutting edge, despite enjoying an extra-man advantage, Tata Martino was forced to bring his best weapon, the five-time FIFA player of the Year, to do the damage.
Messi received a huge ovation while coming on, with the fans chanted his name throughout and waving No 10 Argentina jersey and the familiar colours of Barcelona.
Messi’s first goal: Roderick Miller’s clearance hit the arms of Gonzalo Higuain and fell into the path of Messi, who dribbled past few defenders and calmly slotted the ball past Jaime Penedo’s right side.
His second goal was an absolute beauty. In the 78th minute, the Barca superstar curled in a free kick into the top corner of the goal.
Messi completed his fourth international hat-trick with a left footed chip past Penedo on his right side. It also took Messi’s goal scoring tally to 53 and he is just three goals away from touching Gabriel Batistuta’s all time Argentina record.
Manchester City star Sergio Aguero got his name of the scoresheet as well in the 90th minute. Check the full highlights below: