Argentina Beats Haiti in Friendly as Lionel Messi Registers Hat Trick

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Lionel Messi is ready for the World Cup.

Argentina’s leading man notched a hat trick Tuesday in a 4-0 victory over Haiti in an international friendly. It was just the show the fans were looking for at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires, considering it was their final home game before the soccer world’s attention turns to Russia.

Haiti never truly challenged Argentina on the other side and didn’t have the firepower to keep pace with the all-time great.

Messi Rounding into World Cup Form

Look out World Cup, here comes No. 10.

The box score says he scored three goals and assisted on Sergio Aguero’s, but his impact goes far beyond the raw numbers. Argentina looked lost in its last game—a 6-1 loss to Spain—when Messi wasn’t out there, but Tuesday was a much different story with one of history’s greatest players creating in the open field, directing through balls—none more impressive than the one to Aguero—and darting past defenders.

The attention he draws just by being involved in a play opens up space for his teammates, and he sent a message to future opponents rather than rest ahead of the World Cup.

Giovani Lo Celso took advantage of that space, and the combination of the two playmakers was a problem for Haiti’s back line and gives Argentina fans hope there is more magic to come with soccer’s biggest tournament on the horizon.

Messi’s first goal came on a penalty kick after Celso drew a foul inside the box, and the second came off a rebound of Celso’s header from point-blank range.

Seeing how Messi is 30 years old, this could be his last great opportunity to lift the World Cup trophy as the focal point of Argentina’s attack, which is the one significant hole on his otherwise illustrious resume. While Messi will face much stiffer competition in Russia than he did Tuesday, he was clearly the best player on the field and is rounding into form before June.

That figures to be a problem for the rest of the world.

 

Argentina Beginning to Look Like One of the World Cup Favorites

There were two different classes of teams on the field Tuesday, as Argentina controlled the pace, created a number of golden opportunities beyond the four goals and kept Haiti away from goalkeeper Willy Caballero.

That was critical, as Cady Siregar of Goal.com noted starting goalkeeper Sergio Romero was out with a knee injury.

It is difficult to look at the dominance and brilliance Argentina played with Tuesday and see it as anything but one of the World Cup favorites, especially given the competition it will face in Group D with Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria.

According to the FIFA world rankings, Argentina is fifth, Croatia is 18th, Iceland is 22nd and Nigeria 47th. That doesn’t exactly scream capable of keeping up with Messi, especially given how impressive he has been of late.

 

Argentina Defense Doesn’t Get the Test It Needs

If there is one concern coming out of Tuesday’s contest from Argentina’s perspective, it is the fact the back line wasn’t tested after an ugly 6-1 loss to Spain.

Spain is the type of team Argentina will have to face and beat in the latter stages of the World Cup, and the defense didn’t provide much reason for optimism even though it can point to Messi’s absence as a reason the opponents were living on their side of the field.

While Tuesday’s shutout looks nice on paper, Haiti didn’t bring the world-class scorers likely waiting for Argentina in Russia. In fact, Haiti managed a single shot with zero on goal compared to Argentina’s 21 shots with 11 on goal, per ESPN.com.

Argentina also controlled 75 percent of the possession, so it’s not as if the defense was playing with its back against the wall for much of the contest.

For now, the defense will have to point to the zero goals as evidence of a solid performance, but there are more difficult opponents waiting who will provide more daunting tests.

What’s Next?

While Tuesday was Argentina’s last game on home soil before its World Cup opener on June 16 against Iceland, it still has one more tune-up contest on June 9 against Israel.

By: SCOTT POLACEK | BleacherReport | May 29, 2018

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