Copa America: Argentina beat Panama to enter 2nd round
Chicago, June 11 (IANS) Lionel Messi scored a late hat-trick as Argentina thrashed 10-man Panama 5-0 in a Copa America clash here on Saturday.
Coming on as a substitute in the 61st minute, Messi had an immediate effect, striking in the 68th, 78th and 87th minutes.
Nicolas Otamendi (7th minute) had found the early lead for Argentina while Sergio Aguero (90th) found the net in the final minute of regulation time as Argentina 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.
Panama are second in the group with three points from two matches. They 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 final group match against Chile.
Before Messi came onto the field replacing Augusto Fernandez, Panama had given a good account of themselves.
Otamendi put Argentina in the lead by heading in off a free-kick by Angel di Maria. But if the thousands of Argentina fans in the Soldier Field Stadium thought the early goal signaled an easy win for their team, they were in for a disappointment.
Panama put in a solid defensive display to keep the 'Albecieste' at bay until late in the second half.
It took Messi to finally breach the Panama defence. A careless stance by the Paname defenders took a deflection off Gonzal Higuain to fall for Messi who found himself through on goal.
The Barcelona superstar produced a piece of brilliance soon after when he curved a free-kick over the defensive wall to beat Panama 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.