Lionel Messi promptly scored two goals while being accosted twice by fans invading the field as Argentina extended its unbeaten streak to 35 matches over three years by beating Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz 3-0 on Tuesday night in its next-to-last World Cup warm-up match.
“You have to enjoy Messi,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said. “No matter your country, everyone does. I’m his coach, but I would buy a ticket to see him.”
Julián Álvarez popped in the first goal to put Argentina ahead in the 13th minute. Messi then stepped up with his in the 56th and increased his career total to 90 goals in 164 international appearances with his 17th multi-goal game.
“There are no words to describe what he is,” Álvarez said. “Playing five, 10 minutes or all the match, he manages to do amazing things.”
Five minutes past the hour a fan sprinted onto the field in a scurrilous attempt to take Messi’s photo even as he was tackled by a security guard and being subdued at the Argentine’s feet while the fan still tried frantically to snap a shot of his idol with his cell phone.
Three months past his 35th birthday, the six-time world player of the year and seventh-time Ballon d’Or winner doubled the lead when he beat Andrew Blake to the goalkeeper’s left on a 23-yard left-foot shot in the 86th minute after driving forward following a give-and-go with Giovani Lo Celso.
Barely after he had slotted in his first goal, Messi was approached by a shirtless fan imploring him to sign on his back, and the Argentina skipper appeared about to scrawl his priceless signature before three guards tackled the fan as more swarmed in.
A further three minutes lapsed before Messi obliged his fans with another goal after he was pulled down by Adrian Mariappa just outside the penalty area. La Pulga adroitly propelled the kick through the defensive wall and just to the right arm of a sprawling Blake for his ninth free-kick goal for Argentina.
Messi scored four goals in Argentina’s two World Cup warm-ups this month, giving him altogether 16 career goals in the United States.
The applause from fans was spontaneous less than a minute into the second half when Messi walked with teammates to a corner and started their warm-up preliminaries. It was clearly discernible that a large percentage of the crowd appeared more focused on Messi stretching than they did the action on the rest of the field. Then when he entered to replace Lautaro Martínez and took the captain´s armband from Angel Di Maria, the fans rose in unison to their feet and made the stadium rumble with their vocal acknowledgment of his entry.
After winning his first senior title for Argentina at last year´s Copa América, Messi is still faster with quicker acceleration than most and his presence was truly catalytic to Argentina in the second half. Besides his brace, he also forced Blake to make a pair of frenetic diving saves.
It was an undulating sea of Abiceleste fans as the majority in the sell-out crowd of 25,000 in Red Bull Arena wore the blue-and-white-striped Argentina jerseys, as if it was an Argentina home game. The majority of the public address announcements being primarily in Spanish and ribbon boards flashing “Vamos Argentina!” only served to reinforce the dominant Argentina theme.
Argentina seeks to add to championships it won in 1978 with Mario Kempes and 1986 with Diego Maradona as the Abiceleste head to their 13th straight World Cup. Their last remaining friendly is against the United Arab Emirates on Nov. 16 at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. At the World Cup in Qatar, Argentina opens against Saudi Arabia, which tied the United States 0-0 in an exhibition Tuesday, and then plays Mexico and Poland.
Argentina stands defiant with 25 wins, including one on penalty kicks, and 10 draws since a 2-0 loss to Brazil at the Copa América on July 2, 2019.
Coach Scaloni made eight changes from the starting line-up in Friday´s 3-0 win over 80th-ranked Honduras at Miami Gardens, Florida, inserting Di Maria and Giovani Lo Celso. Emiliano Martínez replaced Gerónimo Rulli.
Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz, who finished sixth among eight nations in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, played in jerseys without names, in radical contrast to Argentina.