Argentina had no trouble defeating Guatemala in a friendly Friday night.
It should come as no surprise that the first half was the Lionel Messi show. You know he’s good, but it really is surprising to see how much better Argentina are with him in the lineup.
There was some concern that he might not be fit. Those fears were allayed early on Friday, per barcastuff:
ARG coach Sabella has confirmed that Messi, back after thigh injury, will take part in tonight's friendly against GUA. #fcblive [via efe]— barcastuff (@barcastuff) June 14, 2013
Messi wasted little time in making an impact. In the 15th minute, he found some space near the top of the 18-yard box. He put the ball on his left and took a few steps over, feinting and then unleashing a vicious left-footed curler into the goal. It was a true “golazo.”
Rather than the goal itself, perhaps the most surprising thing was how much space he was granted. If you’re going to blanket one player, it should probably be the best player in the world.
Messi also did well to set up his teammates later in the match. In the 35th minute, he found the head of Augusto Fernandez with a pass for Argentina’s second goal. It was a very good cross from the forward, and Fernandez did well to power the header across goal.
Five minutes later, it was Messi again. He was brought down in the box by Milton Leal. It was a clear foul, and the referee had no choice but to point to the spot. Messi slotted the penalty away to give Argentina a 3-0 lead.
That’s how the first half finished.
Argentina earned the lead heading into halftime. They were dominant in the attack and gave Guatemala very little. Even in a friendly, Alejandro Sabella really had his players up for this one.
The team didn’t lose any of its momentum going into the second half, either. You could have easily seen Argentina take the foot off the gas and coast for the rest of the match. Instead, they came out looking for blood.
In the 49th minute, Messi was once again the man of the moment. Ezequiel Lavezzi received the ball just to the right of goal. He left it back to Messi, who fired a right-footed shot into an empty net for Argentina’s fourth goal.
Football writer Paulo Freitas noted how important a goal that was for Messi in terms of the national team:
Messi has completed a hat-trick vs Guatemala and is now Argentina's 2nd goalscorer ever, along with Crespo (35 goals), below Batistuta (56)— Paulo Freitas (@Cynegeticus) June 15, 2013
With that goal, Argentina finally let the dogs off and chose to kill off the game. They didn't look to attack as much and were content just to hold onto the ball.
Marco Pappa had a golden chance to get Guatemala on the board in the second half. He had a one-on-one with the keeper but did not cover himself in glory with the finish. Sports Illustrated's Alexander Abnos has a good summary of the event:
I don't use the term "epic fail" lightly. Marco Pappa just had one. Rounded the goalkeeper, open goal, fell flat on his face.— Alexander Abnos (@AnAbnos) June 15, 2013
Wilmar Perez had a great shot go just wide of goal in the 89th minute. It looked like Mariano Andujar may have gotten a touch to it to knock it out. It was the closest Guatemala would get to snatching a goal.
That was the last of the action as Argentina walked away deserved winners.
Lionel Messi, Argentina: A+
Lionel Messi was absolutely superb. Although he only played for 68 minutes, he had three goals and an assist. That's not a bad day's work.
Some continue to knock Messi for his performance with Argentina. Granted, it would be hard for anybody to go from Barcelona to his respective national team and maintain his extremely high level of play. With performances like these, Messi will get those critics off his back pretty easily.
Ezequiel Lavezzi, Argentina: B+
Ezequiel Lavezzi did a great job of spotting Messi for Argentina's fourth goal. It wasn't easy to knock the ball back like that, but Lavezzi make it look effortless. He did all of the hard work as Messi was able to hit the ball into an empty net.
Lavezzi was a constant threat in the attack until he was taken off in the 79th minute.
Marco Pappa, Guatemala: C
Sometimes you only get one chance, especially against a team as good as Argentina. It's up to you to make the most of it. Marco Pappa had a glorious opportunity to get his team on the board, only to botch it in the most comical way possible.
You can't be too hard on Pappa because it was just one play in a meaningless friendly. Still, you'd expect much better of a professional footballer.
|Ricardo Jerez ||C+
|Victor Hernandez ||C+
|Johny Giron ||C
|Milton Leal (off '83) ||C-|
|Elias Vasquez ||C
|Jose Contreras (off '71) ||C
|Manuel Leon (off '54) ||D+|
|Sergio Trujillo ||B+
|Marco Pappa (off '75) ||C|
Mynor Lopez (off '80) ||C-
|Jonathan Lopez (off '56) ||D+
|Renato Seguen ||C
|Wilmar Perez ||C+
|Kevin Arriola ||C|
|Josue Garcia ||INC|
|Mariano Andujar ||B
|Hugo Campagnaro ||B-|
|Fabricio Coloccini ||B
|Jose Maria Basanta (off '64) ||B-|
|Clemente Rodriguez ||B-
|Augusto Fernandez ||B+
|Pablo Guinazu (off '71) ||C+|
|Lucas Biglia (off '46) ||C
|Sergio Aguero (off '46) ||C
|Lionel Messi (off '68) ||A+
|Ezequiel Lavezzi (off '79) ||B+
|Erik Lamela ||C
|Rodrigo Brana ||C+
|Javier Mascherano ||C+
|Ever Banega ||C|
|Walter Montillo ||C-|
This is Argentina's last match for a little while. They travel to Italy for a friendly on August 13. Qualification for the World Cup gets underway again on September 9 against Paraguay.
Guatemala head to the United States for a friendly on July 4, which will be Independence Day in the States. A couple of months later, they hit the road again for a friendly against Japan on September 5.