MESSI TIME Argentina star produces second-half hat trick
CHICAGO -- Lionel Messi made a spectacular Copa America Centenario debut, producing a hat trick in a 19-minute span of the second half as Argentina pounded Panama, 5-0, before a 53,885 crowd at Soldier Field Friday night.
Messi, who missed Argentinaís 2-1 win over Chile with a back injury, moved into a tie for the tournament scoring lead with Brazilís Philippe Coutinho, converting in the 68th, 79th and 87th minutes. Messi was not finished, though, as he sent in a ball for Marcos Rojo to head back for a Sergio Aguero header in the 90th minute.
Argentina (2-0-0, 6 points) can clinch first place in Group B with at least a tie against Bolivia in Seattle Tuesday. The Canaleros (1-1-0, 3 points) meet Chile in Philadelphia Tuesday.
Messi also improved his national team goal total to 53, three short of the Argentina record held by Gabriel Batistuta.
The Albiceleste played most of the game with a numerical advantage after San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Arturo Godoy was cautioned for the second time in the 32nd
Nicolas Otamendi provided the opening goal, heading in a corner at the far post in the seventh minute.
With the crowd anticipating a Messi substitution, he entered in the 62nd minute in place of Augusto Fernandez.
In the 68th minute, an attempted Panama clearance went off Gonzalo Higuainís face directly to Messi, who took a touch and finished past Jaime Penedo.
In the 79th minute, Messi earned a free kick after being taken down by Gabriel Gomez, the clash leaving a long scratch mark on his neck. Messi sent the free kick just inside the right post past a diving Penedo.
Messi scored his third goal off a Panama turnover, maneuvering past Felipe Baloy to score in the 87th minute.