Chicago, June 11: Lionel Messi scored a late hat-trick as Argenti thrashed 10-man Pama 5-0 to enter the quarter-fils of the Copa America Centerio football tourment here.
Coming on as a substitute in the 61st minute, Messi had an immediate effect, striking in the 68th, 78th and 87th minutes, to complete a hat-trick in just 21 minutes. It was a superb start to the tourment for Messi who had missed Argenti’s campaign opener against Chile due to injury.
He is now the joint top scorer in the tourment along with Philippe Coutinho of Brazil.
This was Messi’s fourth hat-trick in an Argentine jersey. He now has a tally of 53 intertiol goals and needs to score just three more to join former striker Gabriel Batistuta as the highest ever scorer for the 14-time Copa America champions.
Nicolas Otamendi (7th minute) had found the early lead for Argenti while Sergio Aguero (90th) found the net in the fil minute of regulation time as Argenti ensured qualification for the second round in some style.
The former World Cup winners are at the top of Group D with six points and a goal difference of +6 from two wins with a match in hand. They will play their fil group match against Bolivia on June 15.
Pama remained joint second in the group along with Chile with three points from two matches each. Pama were reduced to 10 men in the 31st minute when Anibal Godoy picked up a second yellow card for lashing out at Nicolas Gaitan.
They have picked up a host of yellow cards, which means they will miss four players from their starting XI in their third and fil group match against Chile. The winner of that match will join Argenti in the quarter-fils as the second team from Group D.
Before Messi came onto the field replacing Augusto Ferndez, Pama had given a good account of themselves.
Otamendi put Argenti in the lead by heading in off a free-kick by Angel di Maria. But if the thousands of Argenti fans in the Soldier Field Stadium thought the early goal siglled an easy win for their team, they were in for a disappointment.
Pama put in a solid defensive display to keep the ‘Albecieste’ at bay until late in the second half.
It took Messi to filly breach the Pama defence. A careless clearance by Pama defender Roderick Miller took a deflection off Gonzal Higuain’s hand to fall for Messi who found himself through on goal.
The Barcelo superstar produced a piece of brilliance soon after when he curved a free-kick over the defensive wall to beat Pama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo at the near post.
Messi completed his hat-trick soon after with some excellent footwork, beating three defenders before sending a curling shot in at the far post.
Aguero rounded off the tally in the 90th minute when Messi found Marcos Rojo with a beautiful pass. Rojo picked out Aguero who produced a beautiful finish. IANS