Argentina booked their spot in the Copa America Centenario quarterfinals on Friday, after beating 10-man Panama 5-0 at Soldier Field in Chicago behind a Lionel Messi hat trick.
Although the South American side was firmly in control throughout the night, the game remained chippy and quite tight until Messi's entrance just past the hour mark. The Barcelona superstar's presence transformed the game and Argentina completely schooled Panama from that point forward.
Argentina took an early lead, as Angel Di Maria's free kick floated into the six-yard box and defender Nicolas Otamendi made a terrific effort to get his head on it and beat Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, making it 1-0 seven minutes in.
Panama's task got much harder 31 minutes in, when San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Anibal Godoy picked up his second yellow card, for a push in the face of Nicolas Gaitan, and was ejected.
Messi made his Copa America Centenario debut in the 61st minute, and scored less than 10 minutes later, slotting home a shot past Penedo to make it 2-0.
Messi grabbed his second goal of the night in the 78th minute, as his direct free kick beat Penedo at the near post, and completed his hat trick in the 87th minute.
Another superstar substitute, Sergio Aguero, capped off the win in the 90th minute, after Messi's long ball over the top was headed across the box by Marcos Rojo, with Aguero finishing the chance to notch his first goal of the tournament.
- 7' - ARG - Nicolas Otamendi (Angel Di Maria)
- 68' - ARG - Lionel Messi (Gonzalo Higuain)
- 78' - ARG - Lionel Messi
- 87' - ARG - Lionel Messi (Marcos Rojo)
- 90' - ARG - Sergio Aguero (Marcos Rojo, Lionel Messi)
- Full box score
MESSI LIGHTS UP COPA:
For those anxious to see Messi in the Copa America Centenario, it was thoroughly worth the wait. He didn't feature in
Argentina's 2-1 win
over Chile on Monday, but grabbing a hat trick and assist in just over 30 minutes of work was pretty impressive. Now what? It might be obvious to say it, but Argentina's credentials as Copa America favorites are that much stronger with Messi playing.
- ARG: Tuesday, June 14 vs. Bolivia (10 pm ET, FS1, UniMás, UDN)
- PAN: Tuesday, June 14 vs. Chile (8 pm ET, FS1, UniMás, UDN)