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SPORTS | 01-06-2022 21:03

Lionel Messi stars as Argentina beat Italy in Finalissima

Lionel Messi stole the show as Copa América holders Argentina powered to a 3-0 win against European champions Italy in the Finalissima at Wembley on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi stole the show as Copa América holders Argentina powered to a 3-0 win against European champions Italy in the Finalissima at Wembley on Wednesday.

Inspired by the peerless Messi, the Albiceleste raced into a two-goal lead in the first half of the prestigious friendly thanks to strikes from Lautaro Martínez and Ángel Di María.

Paulo Dybala capped Argentina's rout, but after a disappointing season with Paris Saint-Germain by his sky-high standards, it was the sight of Messi back to his imperious best that took the spotlight.

The 34-year-old's eye-catching display featured two assists and was worthy of his rare appearance at one of football's great cathedrals.

Thrown into the air by his jubilant team-mates after the final whistle, Messi said: "Today was a nice test because Italy are a great team. We knew it was going to be a nice game and a nice setting in which to be champions. It was a beautiful final, full of Argentines. What we experienced here was beautiful."

It was another memorable moment for the Albiceleste, who have qualified for this year's World Cup as they extend the golden afterglow from the victory over Brazil that ended their 28-year wait to win the Copa América in 2021.

Argentina were already established as one of the leading contenders to win the World Cup and defeating Italy was another statement of intent from the Albiceleste, who are now unbeaten in 32 matches.

If Messi can play at this level in Qatar, Lionel Scaloni's side will be a force to be reckoned with as they chase a first World Cup title since 1986.

"Everything changed after the Copa América. Now we are enjoying ourselves and things are happening much more easily. We are excited but must keep our feet on the ground," Di María said.

For Italy, it was a disappointing return to Wembley 11 months after they beat England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final.

Roberto Mancini's team have gone into a steep decline since that triumph. They failed to qualify for the World Cup after suffering a humiliating loss to North Macedonia in their play-off semi-final.

After the World Cup failure, Mancini is transitioning to a younger generation, with the forthcoming Nations League matches against Germany, England and Hungary his real focus.

Mancini's overhaul effectively started at half-time when Italy said farewell to 117-cap skipper Giorgio Chiellini, who was substituted in his final game before international retirement.

"They were better than us. We were in the game in the first half but didn't do enough to turn it around after the break," Mancini said.

 

Messi masterpiece

This was only the third Finalissima contest between the respective champions of Europe and South America and the first since Diego Maradona's Argentina beat Denmark in 1993.

Fittingly, Messi – the number 10 and heir to the legendary Maradona – used the occasion to remind the world of his astonishing talents.

The 87,000 sell-out crowd created a colourful backdrop for the Rosario-born captain's mastery, with Argentina's raucous fans turning the north London suburb of Brent into Buenos Aires for one ear-splitting evening. Every touch from Messi lifted the decibel levels and he played a key role as Argentina took the lead in the 28th minute.

Messi worked his magic on the touchline, showing tremendous strength to hold off Giovanni Di Lorenzo before unfurling a precise low cross to Martínez, who applied the finishing touch from close-range.

In first half stoppage-time, Martínez drove forward with bullish tenacity and slipped a perfectly weighted pass to Di María, with the PSG forward clipping a cool finish over Donnarumma.

Di María almost struck again on the hour, but his curler was brilliantly tipped over by Donnarumma as it fizzed towards the far corner.

Messi was unstoppable, robbing Jorginho and embarking on a mesmerising run that finished with a save from Donnarumma.

The superstar's name echoed around the stands as Argentina's fans paid tribute to their idol's latest masterpiece.

Dybala's clinical strike in stoppage-time came via a deft Messi pass as the maestro provided one final flourish.

 

Mancini: ‘Argentina dictated the game’

Italy coach Roberto Mancini admitted Argentina were "better" and deserved to be crowned champions in London.

"Argentina have great players and they dictated the game the way they wanted to. We struggle to score goals at the moment, we have to work hard and we need time," Mancini said in his post-match press conference. 

"Then they played better, they have a lot of talent," he admitted.


 

Messi: ‘This team is ready for anything’

Argentina captain Lionel Messi said on Wednesday it was a “great joy” to have won the Finalissima against Italy at Wembley Stadium. 

Looking ahead to the Qatar 2022 World Cup, the star said that "we are growing more and more and today was another demonstration that this team is ready for anything, it is ready to fight anyone."

Strike partner Ángel Di María said that everything had changed for Argentina since winning the Copa América in 2021. The Albiceleste are now 31 games unbeaten. 

"Everything changed after the Copa, we got rid of a backpack and now things are easier," said Di María, the scorer of the side’s second goal against Italy.


 

‘We're not favourites for the World Cup,’ says Scaloni

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni categorically denied that his team are the favourites to win the Qatar 2022 World Cup after beating Italy 3-0 in the Finalissima in London on Wednesday.

"No," he replied flatly when asked by a Polish journalist at the post-match press conference if the title in the Copa América 2021 and this clash, a duel between the European and South American champions, puts Argentina in “pole position.”

"We are no more or less of a candidate than the others. We are a good team, we are going to compete, and a World Cup is something else," he added.

"Today, at times, it was a good game. There were moments in the first half when we could have been better. They made it difficult for us," he said.

"We continue to mature and that's what's important, against a huge rival, who are among the best [in the world]. We played a good game, in which we suffered at times, which was to be expected, but we did what we had planned and it went well," he said.

 

– TIMES/AFP

 

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