Argentina’s Lionel Messi and teammate rejoice with replicas of the FIFA World Cup trophy after a global pleasant soccer match in opposition to Panama in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, March 23, 2023. (AP Picture/Gustavo Garello)
Seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, Messi, scored a surprising free-kick within the closing minutes got here after 21-year-old Thiago Almada gave the world champions the lead within the 78th minute of their win over Panama on the Monumental
Lionel Messi capped an evening of unbridled pleasure with the 800th aim of his profession as world champions Argentina celebrated their homecoming with a 2-0 pleasant victory over cussed Panama in Buenos Aires on Thursday.
The 35-year-old seven-time Ballon d’Or winner’s beautiful free-kick within the dying minutes got here after 21-year-old MLS sensation Thiago Almada gave a glimpse of what the long run holds together with his first aim for the nationwide staff in solely his third look.
It was an emotional night time as fireworks crackled overhead earlier than kick-off on the spectacular Monumental stadium the place the 83,000 fortunate followers that managed to get tickets among the many greater than 1.5 million individuals who tried, created an environment that produced goosebumps.
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Messi, coach Lionel Scaloni and quite a few gamers got here onto the pitch with their youngsters and a number of other appeared on the point of tears as followers in unison sung Argentina’s World Cup anthem.
It was clear that this was extra a celebration than a soccer match however Panama clearly had not learn the script.
Regardless of fielding a weakened facet, they had been organized and disciplined and managed to frustrate the brand new world champions for 78 minutes earlier than their defences had been lastly breached.
Argentina, who began the sport taking part in champagne soccer, created comparatively little given their 73 per cent possession within the first interval.
Messi struck the woodwork with a freekick whereas Enzo Fernandez introduced a diving one-handed save out of goalkeeper Jose Carlos Guerra with a shot from distance.
Scaloni had picked the identical beginning XI that confronted France within the World Cup closing in December — when Argentina triumphed 4-2 on penalties after a sensational 3-3 draw — however after a goalless first half, he made three modifications.
Within the second interval, Argentina knuckled right down to making an attempt to win a soccer match however Guerra was twice equal to Messi’s free-kicks and likewise saved a low curling effort from veteran Angel Di Maria.
Because the minutes ticked by, the strain rose with Argentina acutely conscious that their occasion risked falling flat if they didn’t win.
However, finally, their predominant man got here to the fore and ensured Panama wouldn’t be occasion poopers.
Messi had a hand within the opening aim, crashing one other free-kick off the woodwork, with Almada, a second-half substitute, following as much as slot residence.
The stadium erupted and the strain drained from Argentina’s gamers, by now principally substitutes.
With a minute to go, Messi was given one more free-kick inside taking pictures vary — his fifth of the match — and this time he curled it into the highest nook to seal the dream situation for his delirious followers.
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