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.
Argentina are now firmly on course to top Group D, with only one game against pointless Bolivia to come.
Messi, the Argentina captain, is expected to boost an attack that frankly doesn't need it, having fared more than fine Monday under the direction of Angel Di Maria (one goal, one assist). To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the South American championship, the tournament has been expanded to include teams from the North, Central and Caribbean Confederation and is being played in the United States. With that prized left foot of his, he unleashed a devastating curler which beat the wall and a flailing Panama 'keeper, the ball grazing the post as it went in. The crowd, which had been beckoning for Messi to enter the game since the first whistle blew and the Barcelona star was still on the bench, serenaded the world's best player with a thunderous chant.
Well, that didn't take Lionel Messi very long. Meanwhile, Panama will be booming with confidence after their impressive victory against Bolivia earlier this week. And he wasn't done.
Deep into eight minutes of added time at the end of the match, Chile were awarded a controversial penalty when Alexis Sánchez's cross was ruled to have been handled by Bolivia's Luis Gutiérrez.
Friday's win marked a dazzling return to the spotlight for Messi, who is determined to help lead Argentina to their first major worldwide tournament victory for 23 years. They are the runners-up of the World Cup and the Copa America, but do not scare us ...
Another substitute, Sergio Aguero grabbed a late goal to make it 5, sending La Albiceleste and 14-time Copa America victor into the quarter-finals of the competition with a match to spare.
"To play with 10 men, and then later on they put him on, it's daunting".