Milestone Messi shines in Argentine goal-fest

Published March 30, 2023
DOHA: Julian Alvarez celebrates with Lionel Messi after he scored his team’s second goal during the Fifa World Cup 2022 semi-final match between Argentina and Croatia at Lusail Stadium in Qatar.—AFP
DOHA: Julian Alvarez celebrates with Lionel Messi after he scored his team’s second goal during the Fifa World Cup 2022 semi-final match between Argentina and Croatia at Lusail Stadium in Qatar.—AFP

BUENOS AIRES: Lionel Messi surpassed the 100-goal mark for World Cup champions Argentina on Tuesday by scoring a hat-trick in their 7-0 friendly win over Curacao.

Argentina’s leading scorer reached a century of international goals when he opened the scoring after 20 minutes in Santiago del Estero, Giovani Lo Celso setting him up in the centre of the box to slot home a low shot. It came 17 years after he opened his Argentina account in a 3-2 defeat to Croatia in March 2006.

“We will never stop celebrating and I think it’s fair and deserved,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni told reporters. “I hope there will be more [Messi goals], he deserves all the praise and it’s good that these goals had been on Argentine soil, that has a special value too.”

Nicolas Gonzalez doubled the hosts’ lead shortly after with a header past Curacao keeper Eloy Room before Messi got his second with a trademark curling shot in at the far post in the 33rd minute.

Messi then set up Enzo Fernandez to fire home from the edge of the box for Argentina’s fourth two minutes later and the 35-year-old completed his seventh hat-trick for the national team in the 37th minute with a simple finish following another pass from Lo Celso.

Substitute Angel Di Maria got on the scoreboard from the penalty spot in the 78th minute and Gonzalo Montiel, who scored Argentina’s last penalty to beat France in the World Cup final, sealed the rout three minutes from full-time.

BELGIUM PILE PRESSURE ON GERMANY

In a high-profile friendly in Cologne, a goal and two assists from Kevin De Bruyne lifted Belgium past struggling Euro 2024 hosts Germany 3-2.

With both teams eager to bounce back from their shock group stage World Cup exits in December, it was Belgium who were the better side, earning their first victory over the Germans since 1954.

“Independent of the result, it is important how we perform in these friendly games,” said new Belgium coach Domenico Tedesco. “It’s not easy to play here… the German team have some really good players.”

De Bruyne set up goals for Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku to give his side a 2-0 lead inside 10 minutes but Germany were on the board on the stroke of halftime when Niclas Fuellkrug converted a penalty.

Despite a livelier second half, the hosts conceded a third as De Bruyne finished from another swift Belgium move. Serge Gnabry cut the deficit in the 88th minute but it was not enough to deny Tedesco a second win from two matches.

“We were far too passive and did not put them under any pressure,” said Germany coach Hansi Flick. Belgium used this mercilessly. We had to change things around a bit to find stability. You could see that we have a lot of work in front of us. We want to be more active and we did it better after about 30 minutes. For us, with an eye on the future, that’s where we have to work on. For everyone to work together.“

MOROCCO HELD BY PERU, RENARD QUITS

Elsewhere on Tuesday, World Cup semi-finalists Morocco were held to a 0-0 draw by Peru in a friendly at Atletico Madrid’s Metropolitano Stadium.

The stalemate came after Morocco beat Brazil 2-1 in a friendly in Tangier on Saturday in their first game after their heroics at the World Cup in Qatar, where they became the first African and Arab country to reach the final four.

Meanwhile, Herve Renard resigned as Saudi Arabia coach so he can take over the France women’s team ahead of this year’s Women’s World Cup, his departure confirmed after Tuesday’s 2-1 friendly defeat by Bolivia.

The 54-year-old Frenchman was appointed as coach of Saudi Arabia in July 2019 and led the country to a famous 2-1 win over eventual winners Argen­tina at the World Cup in Qatar last year.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2023

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