Argentine star Lionel Messi came off the bench with 30 minutes to play and scored a hat trick to see his country thrash ten – man minnows Panama 5 – 0 in the Saturday 11 June Copa America clash at the Soldier Field Stadium in Chicago.
Argentina had an early scare with Ivan Mercado staying down after a tussle in the Panama box but he picked himself up much to the relief of the Argentine bench,
Panama were much on the back foot for long spells in the opening minutes and attracted most of the early bookings, Blas Perez getting the first on the sixth minute for a foul on Javier Mascherano.
The foul, 40 yards out, was needless and Panama went on to pay a heavy price for it as Angel Di Maria stepped up to take it and whipped it in well for Nicolas Otamendi who evaded his marker and craned well to beat Jaime Penedo in the Panama goal.
It should have been two just two minutes later as Gonzalo Higuain found space and picked his spot but Penedo was just at the right place to turn the ball around for a corner.
On the 13th minute a rare foray forward had Panama win a corner and had Perez been alert to react on time he’d have made amends for his mistake that brought Argentina’s goal.
A spell of reckless tackles saw Felipe Baloy of Panama and Argentine duo of Javier Mascherano and Augusto Fernandez all booked between the 15th and 17th minute.
It all started going awry for Panama moments later as Valentin Pimentel was stretchered off on the 20tyh minute and two minutes later Anibal Godoy picked his first yellow card before getting his second nine minutes later and Panama had to find a way to play the top ranked team in the world with ten men.
Somehow, they managed to hold on, seeing Argentina head to the break with just the slim lead.
The nightmare for Panama came in the second half after Lionel Messi’s introduction on the hour mark.
The Barcelona star needed just eight minutes to get his first goal of the tournament picking on a poor clearance from the Panama defence with the ball bouncing off Higuain.
Messi was at it again with a free kick that he bent perfectly above the wall and dipped it well past Pendo for his second of the game on the 78th minute and six minutes later Serrgio Aguero had a goal disallowed for offside.
Messi once again reaped from poor play by the Panama defence to hold off Baloy and curl the ball past Penedo for his hat trick on the 87th minute and two minutes later, there was no denying Aguero this time as he prodded home a Marcos Rojo cutback for his 33rd international goal.