Argentina, the Copa America champions, defeated European champions Italy 3-0 in the Finalissima at Wembley on Wednesday, with Lionel Messi stealing the show.
Argentina took a two-goal lead in the first half of the renowned friendly, due to goals from Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria, who were inspired by Messi.
Argentina’s thrashing was topped by Paulo Dybala, but after a dismal season with Paris Saint-Germain by his lofty standards, it was the sight of Lionel Messi back to his imperious best that drew the most attention.
The 34-year-impressive old’s performance, which included two assists, was deserving of his rare appearance at one of football’s great cathedrals.
It was yet another historic moment for Argentina, who have qualified for this year’s World Cup, extending the golden glow from their Copa America victory over Brazil in 2021, which ended a 28-year wait to win the tournament.
Argentina had already established themselves as one of the top contenders for the World Cup, and their victory over Italy was just another statement of intent for La Albiceleste, who are now undefeated in 32 matches.
If Messi can perform at this level in Qatar, Lionel Scaloni’s team will be a force to be reckoned with as they attempt to win their first World Cup title since 1986.
Italy’s return to Wembley 11 months after defeating England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final was disappointing.
Since that remarkable victory, Roberto Mancini’s club has been on the slide.
After a humiliating loss to North Macedonia in their play-off semi-final, they were unable to qualify for the World Cup.
The Finalissima, Mancini confessed, marked the “end of a cycle” for his European champions.
Mancini is turning to a younger generation following the World Cup loss, with the next Nations League matches against Germany, England, and Hungary being his primary priority.
Mancini’s makeover began at halftime, when Italy’s 117-cap skipper Giorgio Chiellini was substituted in his penultimate game before retiring from international football.
Lionel Messi’s Masterpiece
This was only the third Finalissima match between the European and South American champions, and the first since Argentina defeated Denmark in 1993.
Messi, the heir to the famous Maradona, took advantage of the opportunity to remind the world of his incredible abilities.
Argentina’s noisy fans transformed the north London district of Brent into Buenos Aires for one ear-splitting evening, creating a colorful background for Messi’s supremacy.
Every touch from Messi raised the volume, and although his shot was stopped by Gianluigi Donnarumma, the striker was instrumental in Argentina taking the lead in the 28th minute.
On the touchline, Messi worked his magic, showing incredible power to hold off Giovanni Di Lorenzo before unfurling a precise low cross to Martinez, who finished from close range.
The goal should have been disallowed due to a foul in the build-up, but Italy’s pleas were in vain.
With tensions still high, Leonardo Bonucci was booked after a swinging arm caught Messi in the face, leaving him writhing in pain.
In first-half stoppage time, Di Maria exacted vengeance on Messi.
Martinez pushed forward with bullish persistence and slipped a superbly weighted pass to Di Maria, who clipped a calm finish over Donnarumma to match the approach play.
On the hour, Di Maria almost scored again, but Donnarumma expertly turned his curler over as it fizzed towards the far corner.
Messi robbed Jorginho and went on an enthralling run that ended with a Donnarumma save.
Argentina’s fans paid thanks to their idol’s latest masterpiece by chanting Messi’s name around the stadium.
In stoppage time, Dybala scored a brilliant goal off a beautiful Messi pass as the maestro added a last flourish.