CHICAGO: Lionel Messi scored a magical hat-trick in 19 minutes as Argentina cruised into the Copa America Centenario quarters with a 5-0 rout of Panama on Friday.
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 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 free-kick into the top corner in the 78th minute.
Messi then completed his hattrick— skipping clear of a marker inside the area to make it 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.
Nicolas Otamendi had opened the scoring for Argentina in the seventh, heading home an Angel Di Maria free-kick.
CHILE SCRAPE TO WIN
FOXBOROUGH: Arturo Vidal scored a controversial penalty in injury time as holders Chile beat Bolivia 2-1 to keep their Copa America campaign alive here Friday.
Vidal struck from the spot in the 10th minute of time added on after a debatable penalty was awarded against Bolivian defender Luis Gutierrez for handball. Television replays showed Gutierrez had his right arm behind his back to avoid conceding a handball but Alexis Sanchez’s cross struck him on the shoulder and Marrufo pointed to the spot after the apparent intervention of the linesman.
The result gives Chile hope of reaching the last eight following their opening defeat to Argentina in Group D.