Argentina 2-0 Panama: Messi nets stunning free-kick to make it 800 goals
A stunning attacking display from Lionel Messi highlighted a one-sided 2-0 home victory for Argentina in their friendly against Panama on Thursday.
The Paris Saint-Germain superstar was nearly moved to tears as his side were serenaded by the raucous El Monumental crowd in the World Cup champions' return to Buenos Aires.
He gave his fans an inspired performance, striking the crossbar with two free-kicks before sending another into the top corner to bring up 800 goals in his storied career.
He joined Thiago Almada on the scoresheet after the Atlanta United forward scrambled home one of Messi's crossbar rebounds earlier in the second half.
Argentina piled on the pressure right from the first whistle, and their early dominance was almost rewarded when Messi's free-kick cannoned off the crossbar in the 17th minute.
Less than 10 minutes later Rodrigo De Paul played a gorgeous ball through to Alexis Mac Allister, but Panama goalkeeper Jose Guerra made himself big and smothered the first-time attempt on the edge of the six-yard box.
Guerra rose the occasion once again in the shadows of half-time, denying a rocket bound for the top corner from Enzo Fernandez's boot to keep his side level through 45 minutes despite trailing 10-1 in the shot count and controlling only 27 per cent of the possession.
The Argentinian onslaught continued in the second half, with a Messi corner kick five minutes after the restart forcing a scrambling save from Guerra as it threatened to curl under the crossbar.
Another Messi direct free kick drew another save from Guerra, and he was there once again to deny Angel Di Maria from the resulting corner in what was shaping up as a man-of the-match performance from the Panama shot-stopper.
But he was denied a clean sheet as the hosts' dominance eventually paid off in the 78th minute, when another Messi free-kick hit the crossbar, but this time Almada was in the right spot to force home the rebound for his first goal in an Argentina shirt.
A fourth free kick proved to be the charm for Messi, curling it over the wall and under the bar in the 89th minute to put an exclamation point on a spectacular individual performance.
What does it mean? Argentina get started on a new streak
Heading into the Qatar World Cup, Argentina boasted a 36-match unbeaten streak dating back to the 2019 Copa America.
That mark ended with their shock loss to Saudi Arabia in the group stage but they have now rattled off seven consecutive victories since.
Messi magic shines in El Monumental
Argentina's superstar put on a show, with the 35-year-old ending up as one of only four outfield players on his team to play the full 90 minutes.
He was unbelievably active, with his 14 shots 11 more than any other player (Almada, three), and his 13 touches in the opposition's box were eight more than closest team-mate Di Maria.
Alvarez takes a back seat
While it was a great night for the home side, it was a disappointing opening half for Manchester City talent Julian Alvarez before being subbed off.
His 15 total touches were the fewest among outfielders in the starting XI, and his six accurate passes were the fewest of any Argentina player. Alvarez was credited with no shots and no dribbles.
Argentina will next face Curacao in a home friendly at Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades on Monday, while Panama prepare for a CONCACAF Nations League clash against Costa Rica on Tuesday.