Argentina played Panama at Soldier Field stadium in Chicago for their second game of the tournament. Both teams were coming off 2-1 victories. Panama put in a historic performance against Bolivia but would they have enough to get anything Argentina?
Blog Written by Matteo Bellini:
Wow! Take a bow, just take a bow son. That was pure magic from the maestro Messi. I mean come on it is not fair! In less than 30 minutes, Messi managed to make a quite good Argentina side look like a full-on destroying machine.
Argentina took the lead early on after a great Di Maria free kick, which was headed into the net by Nicolás Otamendi. Along with the opening goal, Otamendi looked very solid in the back along with Funes Mori, Gabriel Mercado and Marcos Rojo. The game was a bit irregular mainly due to the imprecision of both teams and the uncalled and basically unethical fouls by Panamanian players, which eventually resulted in the sending off of Anibal Godoy in the 30th minute.
Surely a major blow for Argentina is the loss of Angel Di Maria who had to be subbed off after he got injured five minutes prior the end of the first half. Erik Lamela, who replaced him, couldn’t live up to the standards of his compatriot and didn’t have much of an impact on the match. The game had become stale again in the early part of the second half. In the 61st minute, Argentina’s coach, Tata Martino to the absolute delight of the 53,885 people in attendance decided to sub Lionel Messi on. Now this was where everything changed in favor of Argentina. Messi came in and the crowed cheered and basically he did what he does best, I mean there is a reason why this guy is considered the best player in the world. He added movement, speed and precision something that was lacking. He was very lucky to find a ball that hit Gonzalo Higuain in the face at his feet and with grace, he curved into the back of the net. This apart from one shot is what Higuain did during the game as he ended another disappointing match with the Albiceleste and was subbed off in favor of Sergio Agüero. Messi continued to show his magic, scoring an exquisite free kick, while also delivering a perfect ball to Rojo who then assisted Agüero. This was the icing on the cake for a pretty irregular night from the Argentines who have now qualified for the quarterfinals and thanks to the return of their ace are surely ready to seriously challenge for the trophy.
To sum it all up: goalkeeper Sergio Romero had a couple of interventions and was always reliable. Mercado and Rojo, Argentina’s fullbacks, contributed in attack as well as defense and looked pretty solid the whole match. Next up is the middle where Augusto Fernandez and Javier Mascherano made things look easy. Though they didn’t manage to add much in attack they looked solid, especially Mascherano who saved Argentina from what would’ve been a certain goal after a Panama counter attack. Ever Banega, who Argentina relies on to add a creative spark, was underwhelming to say the least, although he did have a part in some good plays. Nicolás Gaitan played well adding good speed and movement. Di Maria had to be subbed off after his injury but still showed his quality on free kicks having assisted Otamendi in the 6th minute. Finally the striker from Napoli, Gonzalo Higuain, failed once again to score and only managed to get one shot on target and a lucky assist to Messi with his face. As for the subs, Lamela was underwhelming to say the least, Agüero looked good on the ball and had some flashes of genius in the small time he was given, and finally Messi who really played like the legend we all know him to be and showed glimpses of the magnificent Barcelona player he is, this time with his national team. His 19 minute hat trick will surely shut up many of his critics in the country.
Argentina plays their last group stage match against Bolivia on Tuesday, June 4. As heavy favorites they will look to close out on a strong note and win their group.