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Wednesday , November 13 2019

Messi grabs hat-trick, Argentina cruise into quarters – Chile keep Copa campaign alive

Argentina’s Lionel Messi (left), eludes Panama’s Felipe Baloy to score during the Copa America Centenario football tournament in Chicago, Illinois, United States on June 10. (AFP)
Argentina’s Lionel Messi (left), eludes Panama’s Felipe Baloy to score during the Copa America Centenario football tournament in Chicago, Illinois, United States on June 10. (AFP)

CHICAGO, June 11, (AFP): Lionel Messi scored a magical hat-trick in 19 minutes as Argentina cruised into the Copa America Centenario quarter-finals with a 5-0 rout of Panama on Friday.

Messi had been forced to delay his debut in the tournament after a slow recovery from a lower back injury, with Argentina coach Gerardo Martino surprisingly naming him amongst the substitutes once more.

But Messi wasted no time in stamping his genius on the tournament after coming on in the 61st minute to replace Augusto Fernandez with Argentina leading the Group D game 1-0.

An electrifying cameo from the Barcelona superstar began with his first goal of the tournament on 68 minutes, finishing with aplomb after Gonzalo Higuain’s shot bounced off a Panamanian defender into his path.

But there was no question of luck with his second, with Messi curling a wonderful free-kick into the top corner to bring the Soldier Field crowd to its feet in the 78th minute.

With Panama’s heads down, Messi then duly completed his quick-fire hat-trick — skipping clear of a marker inside the penalty area to finish emphatically for 4-0.

There was still time for Messi to have a hand in Argentina’s fifth goal of the evening, providing a sublime pass in the build-up to Sergio Aguero’s close range headed effort in the 90th minute.

Aguero’s Manchester City team-mate Nicolas Otamendi had opened the scoring for Argentina in the seventh minute, heading home an Angel Di Maria free-kick from close range.

“I’m happy to be playing again, I really wanted to play tonight,” a satisfied Messi said. “I’m very happy with the result and the goals,” added Messi, whose entrance was accompanied by a loud ovation and chants of his name.

Shellshocked Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez, the experienced Colombian, was left in awe by Messi’s masterclass. “Messi is a monster,” Gomez said. “Before he came on the match was quite even. But with Messi you make one mistake, and you pay for it.”

Aguero’s Manchester City team-mate Nicolas Otamendi had opened the scoring for Argentina in the seventh minute, heading home an Angel Di Maria free-kick from close range.

The victory sees Argentina, convincing 2-1 winners over Chile in their opening game, guaranteed a spot in the last eight with one group game remaining.

Arturo Vidal scored a controversial penalty deep into injury time as holders Chile snatched a dramatic 2-1 victory over Bolivia to keep their Copa America Centenario campaign alive here Friday.

Bayern Munich star Vidal struck from the spot in the 10th minute of time added on after a hugely debatable penalty was awarded against Bolivian defender Luis Gutierrez for handball by US referee Jair Marrufo.

Television replays showed Gutierrez had his right arm behind his back to avoid conceding a handball but Alexis Sanchez’s cross struck him on the shoulder and Marrufo pointed to the spot after the apparent intervention of the linesman.

Bolivia’s players surrounded the referee for angry protests but Marrufo’s decision stood and it was left to Vidal to drive home the penalty.

The result gives Chile hope of reaching the last eight following their opening defeat to Argentina in Group D.

Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi brushed off questions about his team’s fortuitous penalty award, insisting that they had deserved to win.

“We more than deserved to win the game,” Pizzi said. “The game didn’t go quite as we planned, but we were worthy winners.

“Sometimes decisions go for you, sometimes against you. They balance out. But we deserved to win.”

Vidal meanwhile admitted he doubted whether the penalty should have been given but claimed it was compensation.

“They missed a clear handball earlier in the game, so it balanced things,” the midfielder said.

Bolivia coach Julio Cesar Baldivieso decried the spot-kick as a “disgrace” and also questioned how match officials had determined that more than eight minutes of added time should be played.

“It’s a disgrace what they’ve done,” he fumed. “It really hurts to lose that way. I’d ask you to analyze the video and tell me where those eight minutes of injury time came from.”

Earlier a stunning 61st minute free-kick from Kuwait-based playmaker Jhasmani Campos appeared to have grabbed a share of the points for Bolivia at Gillette Stadium after Vidal had given Chile the lead just after half-time.

Bolivia, beaten by Panama in their first match, have zero points from two games.

It looked like being a frustrating evening at Foxborough for the Chileans, who dominated possession and territory but were unable to make their advantage count until the referee’s late intervention.

After a scrappy first half, Chile looked to have taken a decisive breakthrough immediately after the restart with Vidal’s goal.

Arsenal star Sanchez dispossessed Juan Carols Arce just outside the Bolivia area and fed Mauricio Pinilla.

Pinilla looked up and squared for Vidal who swept in an emphatic finish to make it 1-0 on 46 minutes.

Yet Bolivia got back on level terms after Chile conceded a free-kick from around 25 meters, slightly out to the right.

There appeared to be little danger but Campos stepped up and produced a spectacular long-range strike which curled late before dipping into the top corner beyond the fingertips of Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

 

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